Saturday, 23 December 2017

Plotinus’s Aristotelian Road to Plato

The Enneads, the collection of writings by Plotinus, was edited and published by his pupil Porphyry in 270 C.E. In his Preface to the work, Porphyry says that the Enneads is a compendium of Aristotelian thoughts, and its focus is on Aristotle's Metaphysics. He writes: "In style Plotinus is concise, dense with thought, terse, more lavish of ideas than of words, most often expressing himself with a fervid inspiration. He followed his own path rather than that of tradition, but in his writings both the Stoic and Peripatetic doctrines are sunk; Aristotle's Metaphysics, especially, is condensed in them, all but entire."

Lloyd P. Gerson, in his book Plotinus-Arg Philosophers (The Arguments of the Philosophers),  uses Porphyry’s view of the Enneads to make the case that Plotinus, while being devoted to defending Platonism from its opponents, was also close to Aristotle. Gerson notes that the Enneads contain at least 150 direct references to Metaphysics and has references to Aristotle's other works. Here’s an excerpt from Gerson’s Introduction to his book:

"An additional and sometimes overlooked facet of Plotinus’ Platonism is that Plotinus leans heavily on Aristotle for an understanding of what Plato’s doctrines actually were. For one thing, Plotinus’ Plato is sharply distinguished from Socrates, following that perfectly natural distinction in Aristotle. Nothing in the Enneads is derived from or depends on what we have come to recognize as especially Socratic. More importantly, Plotinus follows Aristotle in holding that Plato had an unwritten doctrine of principles. Indeed, Plotinus appears to rely on Aristotle for understanding what that is. Some effort is expended in the Enneads in order to show that this unwritten doctrine is at least consonant with that which appears in the dialogues. Finally Plotinus will frequently accept as authoritative an interpretation of Plato by Aristotle, as interpretation which Aristotle himself thinks leads a Platonic doctrine to shipwreck. Plotinus, however, will typically attempt to show that what Aristotle thinks is a disastrous consequences of a Platonic position is in fact true and even necessary. The alternative Aristotelian position is what ought to be rejected. And yet where Plotinus judges that Aristotle is ready not in disagreement with Plato, he will quietly adopt Aristotle’s terminology, distinctions, and even his explicit conclusions."

Friday, 22 December 2017

On The Platonism in Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle are seen as the contrasting poles of western philosophy, but there is a significant amount of Platonism in Aristotle. In his book A Critical History of Greek Philosophy, W. T. Stace notes that Aristotle himself was the originator of the mistaken belief that Aristotle and Plato are opposites. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 13, “Aristotle”:

"It has been said that everyone has either an Aristotelian or a Platonic type of mind. As this implies that Aristotle and Plato are opposites, it is considerably less than a half truth. No genuine understanding of Aristotle can endorse the opinion that his philosophical system was the opposite of Plato’s. It would be truer to say that Aristotle was the greatest of all Platonists, since his system is still founded upon the Idea, and is an attempt to found an idealism free from defects of Plato’s system. It is in fact a development of Platonism. What is the cause then of the popular notion that Aristotle was the opposite of Plato? Now the fact is that they were opposites in many important respects. But there was a fundamental agreement between them which lies deeper than the differences. The differences are largely superficial, the agreement is deep-seated. Hence it is the differences that are most obvious, and it was the differences, too, which were most obvious to Aristotle himself. The popular opinion arises largely from the fact that Aristotle never loses an opportunity of attacking the Platonic theory of Ideas. He is continually at pains to emphasize the difference between himself and Plato, but says nothing of the agreement. But no man is a judge of his own deeper relations to his predecessors and contemporaries. It is only in after years, when the hubbub of controversy has settled down into the silence of the past, that the historian can see the true perspective, and can penetrate the relations of each great man to the time in which he lived. Plato was the founder of idealism, and his idealism was in many respects crude and untenable. It was the special mission of Aristotle to clear away these crudities, and so develop Platonism into a tenable philosophy. And it was natural that he should emphasize the crudities, which he had to fight so hard to overcome, rather than that substratum of truth which Plato had already developed, and which therefore required no special treatment at his hands. It was the differences between himself and his predecessor which were most obvious to him, and it was inevitable that he should adopt a thoroughly polemical attitude towards his master." 

In the same chapter, Stace notes  that Aristotle’s grievance against Plato was that Plato did not love facts: "In the first place, Aristotle loved facts. What he wanted was always definite scientific knowledge. Plato, on the other hand, had no love of facts and no gift for physical enquiries. And what disgusted Aristotle about the system of Plato was the contempt which it poured upon the world of sense. To depreciate objects of sense, and to proclaim the knowledge of them valueless, was a fundamental characteristic of all Platonic thinking. But the world of sense is the world of facts, and Aristotle was deeply interested in facts. No matter in what branch of knowledge, any fact was received by Aristotle with enthusiasm."

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

W. T. Stace on The Philosophy of Hegel

"The philosophy of Hegel... is not something simply invented out of nothing by himself and flung at random into an astonished world. It is no crazy fancy of an individual's brain, no gimcrack novelty. It is not the pet theory of some erratic genius, nor is it merely one theory among many rivals. The true author of it is, not so much Hegel, as the toiling and thinking human spirit, the universal spirit of humanity getting itself uttered through this individual. It is the work of the ages. It has its roots deep in the past. It is the accumulated wisdom of the years, the last phase of the one "universal philosophy.” For the truth is, to use a phrase of Hegel’s, neither new nor old, but permanent. Yet Hegel, too, is profoundly original. But his originality is not mere novelty. It is new, but it is old too. It recognizes all past truth, absorbs it into itself, and advances. Hence its attitude to other philosophies is neither envious, nor hostile, nor destructive. It sees in every one of them some phase or aspect of truth which has to be recognized and absorbed into itself. It is for this reason a genuinely universal philosophy." ~ W. T. Stace in The Philosophy of Hegel: A Systematic Exposition (Chapter: "Greek Idealism and Hegel")

Sunday, 17 December 2017

On Garve's Review of Kant’s First Critique

In January 1782, the Göttingen Learned Notices published a review of  Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781). The review was by Christian Garve but it had been extensively revised by the journal’s editor J. G. Feder. In Garve's original review there were 312 lines—Feder left only 76 lines unchanged. He made minor changes in 69 lines and extensive changes in the rest. Feder added a new element to the review by comparing Kant with Berkeley and Hume. But this comparison was in line with Garve’s intention in the original review because Garve’s characterization of Kant’s idealism was not different from what Feder proposed in his revisions.

Kant was not satisfied with the review. He took the charge that he is an idealist like Hume and Berkeley (which is Garve’s key charge against him) very seriously. He complained that Garve had not understood him, and decided to write a response, which came in the form of his book, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783). In the Prolegomena, Kant summarizes and explains the key arguments of the Critique. In the book’s appendix he offers his rebuttal of Garve’s review.

In August 1783, a journal published a short piece on the Prolegomena and called special attention to Kant’s charge that Garve had not understood him. Garve responded with an article in which he said: “If the honorable and witty man [Kant] did not live so much in the clouds, if he did not use a terminology of his own and if his sentences were shorter and simpler, he might be less exposed to this danger [of being misunderstood].” Later on the original version of Garve’s review of the Critique was published in another journal, but Kant was still dissatisfied with it.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Jacopo Zabarella On Knowledge

Giacomo (Jacopo) Zabarella, the sixteenth-century philosopher known for his Aristotelian commitments, believed that the highest form of knowledge is demonstrative knowledge which proceeds from a distinct knowledge of the cause and demonstrates the necessary connection of the effect with the cause, thereby providing distinct knowledge of the effect. Here’s an excerpt from Zabarella’s Opera Logica: For all scientific advance from the known to the unknown is either from a cause to an effect or from an effect to a cause. The former indeed is the demonstrative method; but the latter is the resolutive method. There is no other process that brings forth certain knowledge of a thing. For if we advance from something to something else, neither of which is the cause of the other, it is not possible for there to be an essential or necessary connection between them. Hence, no certain cognition can follow from the advance. Therefore, it follows that there is no scientific method besides the demonstrative and resolutive ones.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Platonic Questions in Aesthetics

In the Introduction to his book Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics, Paul Guyer talks about Plato’s role as the originator of the philosophical debate on aesthetics. He notes that while Plato asked the right questions concerning several issues in aesthetics, Aristotle provided the answers to those questions. Here’s an excerpt:
Plato effectively began Western philosophy with an attack on Greek assumptions about the cognitive and practical value of the creation and experience of art, so aesthetics has been both a part of and under attack by philosophy since the outset. In the Republic, Plato questioned the claims of poets and their adherents to any important expertise, and cast doubt on the cognitive value of imitations or representations in general by characterizing them as mere copies of ordinary objects that are themselves mere copies of the genuine realities – the Forms. In the Ion and Phaedrus, he more archly cast doubt on any claims to knowledge that might be made by artists by suggesting that artistic success depends upon divine inspiration, and is therefore incomprehensible to mere mortals. In the Republic, he also questioned the practical value of art not only by questioning the cognitive claims on which its practical value might be thought to depend, but also by arguing that the expression of emotion in either the experience or especially the performance of art would be counterproductive for the education of his ideal guardians, who are to learn above all to use their reason to control their emotions, and by extension the emotions of those they are to govern. Yet while doing all of this, Plato was also aware of the spell of beauty, especially beauty in our own kind, and attempted to channel our love of earthly beauty into love of a higher kind of beauty, something not otherwise accessible to the senses, the beauties of the Forms themselves, especially, of course, the Form of the Good or Justice.  
Plato has subsequently found few takers for the whole of his critique of beauty and art; indeed, the defense of both the cognitive and the emotional as well as practical value of aesthetic experience began immediately with Aristotle, his student and successor. But the questions that Plato raised – what is the nature and value of beauty? what is the connection between art and knowledge? what is the connection between aesthetics and morality? and what is genius, the source of artistic inspiration? – have always remained at the heart of aesthetics, no less so when aesthetics be- came a recognized academic discipline early in the eighteenth century than before, and no less so now than at any other time in modernity. Indeed, after several decades in which “analytic” philosophers set these substantive issues aside in favor of supposedly more respectable as well as more tractable questions about the structure and logic of aesthetic language and discourse – just as they attempted to do for a while in other areas of philosophy as well, such as moral philosophy – precisely these ancient questions have recently returned to the forefront of debate in Anglo-American aesthetics, with all their allure and all their difficulty.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Ayn Rand’s Open Letter in Reply to Immanuel Kant

I recently posted an article, “Immanuel Kant’s Open Letter to Ayn Rand.” Roger Bissell has taken on the mantle of writing Ayn Rand’s enlightening reply to Kant’s letter. Here’s Bissell’s letter on behalf of Rand:

Dear Immanuel Kant,

Your kind letter reached me here in Valhalla, where my late husband Frank and my own late self have been residing for nearly 4 decades now. (Or so I gather, from the date of your missive. There are no clocks or calendars here, and time just seems to stretch out…eternally, it seems.) It is a serene existence, though populated with many fewer heroes than I would have hoped. But that’s all right, because I have my number one hero and soulmate, Frank, to keep me company!

I’m not surprised that you have found your life in Heaven to be a drab one. Doesn’t it get tiring, playing harp, singing Hosannahs, and knowing that you can never again enjoy the sensual pleasures of physical earthly existence? You did mention Aristotle being there with you, though without further details. I am somewhat surprised to learn that he is there in the theistic Paradise (Heaven). I would have thought that, being a Pagan and practically a god (at least, to me), he would have matriculated to Olympus – or perhaps to wherever the Great Library of Alexandria went to die. In any case, I’m certain that he finds it interesting to have you to talk with, he and you being the second and third greatest philosophers who ever lived. (You will understand that modesty prevents me from saying who was the greatest.)

But enough about our respective residences, and on to our relationship. 

You have thanked me for helping to “engineer a massive revival of interest" in your philosophy and popularization of your ideas, as the result of my “unsubstantiated and illogical commentary.” You make it sound as though the benefit that accrued to you was just an unintended consequence of my (supposedly) irrational criticism. Quite the contrary.

You have to realize that on the heels of the publication of Atlas Shrugged – my greatest novel (and the greatest novel ever written) – I fell into a deep depression because, although it sold and continues to sell many copies each year, it was severely panned by the critics and it attracted virtually no support from the academic philosophical establishment. This was a severe disappointment to me, but something I should have anticipated, because it is young people who are open to new ideas, not their professors, who are set in their ways and are a lost cause.

I don’t know which part of the rejection was worse: the massive distortions and misrepresentations by the literary and cultural thugs in their reviews of my work, or the deafening silence from those in academia who were sympathetic to my ideas but felt they had to remain silent in order not to be ostracized by their colleagues. In other words, deliberate malevolence vs. moral cowardice. In other words, hatred of the good for being the good vs. appeasing sacrifice of the good to the evil.

I felt I had to do something, to make an end run around this blockade of vicious criticism and craven silence. I had made a promise to myself and to one of my college professors that my ideas would one day be part of Western philosophy. I didn’t have it in me for another novel; I tried to sketch and outline ideas for it in my journal, but it went nowhere. I began work on a treatise on the philosophy I had introduced in Atlas Shrugged – Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth. That, too, ended up as a series of entries in my (posthumously published) Journals. 

So, I did the only thing left to me. I reached out to the young people. I began to do college lectures, and I began a monthly newsletter. And much as it pleased me to be able to quote passages from my novels in order to illustrate my spoken and written points, I found that I needed a real villain to contrast with my own self as the heroic rescuer of Western civilization from its destroyers: faith and force – its demons: mysticism, altruism, and collectivism.

You, of course, were that villain. That is, you were the obvious person to villain-ize. Your most path-breaking writing was so difficult to understand, that it could easily be distorted and depicted as attacks on reason and happiness just by selectively quoting superficially supporting statements, while also dropping context and failing to include your own clarifications and explanations. 

Can you blame me? I felt that I had to fight fire with fire. My enemies misrepresented my ideas in order to try to defeat me, so I misrepresented your ideas in order to create an enemy whose writing was so obscure that he would be hard to defend, and yet who was already widely credited as being the fountainhead of modern philosophy, and who could thus be blamed for all its ills, as well as for the decadence and corruption of modern culture and for 20th century collectivism and totalitarian mass murder. My enemies were so crude and blatant, while I was so subtle and clever, in many ways. 
  • When I wanted to change a definition, I did so without announcement, so as not to appear unstable or imperfect. 
  • When I wanted to erase unsavory implications of an earlier edition of a novel I’d written, I removed them and referred to them publicly as “editorial line changes.” 
  • When I wanted for one of my blatant contradictions to not be memorialized in an entry of a reference work, I had its editor remove that entry entirely. 
  • And when I wanted to create a villain, I buried his true nature within his own nearly impenetrable verbiage.
Yes, I am fully aware of your true nature, i.e., of what you were actually arguing for in your works. 
  • I know full well that you were not an altruist, no more than I was in my essay “The Ethics of Emergencies,” in which I argued for the obligation to non-sacrificially help those in need. 
  • I know full well that you were not anti-happiness, and that your arguments against eudaimonia were actually anti-hedonism and were remarkably similar to my own arguments in “The Virtue of Selfishness.” 
  • I know full well that you were not a deontologist, and that your “duty” ethic was no more intrinsicist and acontextual than was my follower Leonard Peikoff’s theory of volition. Your reasons for not being dishonest belied the supposed deontological nature of your morality every bit as much as Leonards’s “there is no why?” was belied by his argument that the choice to focus was due to a “reality orientation.” 
  • And I know full well that you were every bit as much a champion of individual liberty and rights as I was, because you argued that it was just to use force to “hinder” the freedom of another to “hinder” someone else’s free action.
I knew all of this, and much more, but I chose not to acknowledge it. My followers either don’t know – or they do know, but choose not to say so. But I don’t blame them for their lack of intellectual ambition and/or moral courage, any more than I would condemn myself for my lack of honesty in the ways illustrated above. This is war and, as I have often famously said, “Morality ends at the point of a gun.”

So now, as Paul Harvey, a famous radio commentator used to say, “You know the rest of the story.” And yes, you properly should thank me for elevating you to your present status in the philosophical world. And in return, I will thank you, for providing just the right “contrast object” for me to portray myself as the one whose ideas will change the course of the world and save it from irrational, violent destruction. 

For after all, and despite all the other ways in which I have…set aside…my moral code, I am above all a firm believer in the Trader Principle, and you and I have given value for value. We have each ended up better off than before I initiated our unilateral trade. And you may continue to thank me as you enjoy the continued attention and status you would not have had without my efforts.

Best premises,

(Miss) Ayn Rand

P.S. – You of all people must know that “Pure Randianism” is a Platonistic floating abstraction, and a gigantic strawman, to boot. But I can hardly complain, since I said the same about your ideas, knowing that people would not bother to check for themselves, beyond looking up the cherry-picked, out of context quotations that supported their biases which I taught them to have.