Who Was Giordano Bruno?

The Renaissance was one of the most groundbreaking periods in history, as it saw the revival of classical thinking, yet it also paved the way for future ideas. The time was ripe with ideas; philosophers, artists, and scientists began to break away from religion and propose new ideas, which were scientific in nature, and did not rely on the Church’s dogma. Unfortunately, countless intellectuals from the period were persecuted by the Church, which denounced them as heretics, burning their books, trying as hard as possible to stunt the growth of scientific thought. Among these thinkers was the legendary Giordano Bruno: philosopher, cosmologist, and occult mage.


unknown-6Born in 1548 to a poor family in Nola, Italy, Bruno at a young age joined the Dominican Order, which was the common thing to do in his time. Eager to learn, Bruno saw the Order as a great means through which to get an education, seeing as he could not afford a formal one. It did not take long for a young Bruno to take a disliking to Catholicism, for early on he stripped his cell of everything but the cross. Later on, he was accused of heresy, and in 1576, he was exiled from the Order, destined to a life of itinerancy, wandering from one place to another for refuge from an institution which, at the time, seemed to be everywhere, inescapable. During his time at the Order, Bruno studied the great thinkers that had come before him: Lull, Plotinus, Aquinas, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Cusa, and Copernicus, the latter of whom would imprint himself on Bruno’s thought most saliently. Bruno’s exile took him all across Europe, from Switzerland to France to England and thence to Germany. To afford his non-stop traveling, Bruno worked as both a public lecturer and private tutor. Geneva, he found, provided no safety for him, so upon receiving a letter from Henry III, King of France, who insisted he come, Bruno absquatulated to France, where he was welcomed to the court. There he taught the King and enjoyed tranquility for some time. He also lectured at a number of eminent colleges, such as the University of Paris, Oxford,[1] and Wittenberg. Bruno came into contact with many Protestants who were also hiding from the Church, although he came to dislike them, for they were, according to him, narrow-minded; likewise, the Protestants did not consider themselves sympathetic to philosophers like Bruno. Throughout his wandering, Bruno never really enjoyed any belonging, nor any peace. Unwanted, homeless, an outcast, Bruno had no place to call home—which is why he was delighted to get a letter from Giovanni Mocenigo on May 23, 1592, who was from his native Italy, whereupon Bruno quickly went to Venice, which was still heavily Catholic. Bruno was aware of the apparent danger posed by his returning to Italy, but he took Mocenigo’s amiable invitation as a sign that he was in good terms, that it was safe to come back. Mocenigo was fascinated by Bruno’s work in mnemonics. Bruno took this opportunity to also get a position at the University of Padua, at which he lectured for his stay. Unbeknownst to the philosopher, Mocenigo was convinced Bruno was actually an Occult mage trained in black magic. When he was unsatisfied with his learning, upset that Bruno was apparently holding out on teaching 310px-Galileo_before_the_Holy_Office.jpghim the dark arts, feeling betrayed, Mocenigo secretly alerted the Venice Inquisition. Locked in Mocenigo’s basement, Bruno was then taken to the Inquisition. He was tortured and forced to recant all his heretic beliefs. Bruno was pardoned, but soon the court at Rome requested his hearing. For eight years Bruno sat rotting in the prisons of Rome. The Inquisition at Rome was not as lenient as the Venetian, and much more austere. Whereas the latter let him off the hook and took pity on him, the former would listen to nothing he said. On February 17, 1600, at the Campo de’ Fiori, Giordano Bruno, after spending his whole life in exile, after spending eight years in prison, was burned alive.


Bruno had an unorthodox education, having read, in addition to the classic philosophers, Egyptian mystical works and Hermetic writings. He read the Hermetic Corpus, a mystical work written by a supposed Hermes Trismegistus, a prophet of Egyptian religion. From Unknown-1.jpeghis readings in Hermeticism he derived the ideas of metempsychosis (from Orphism), or transmigration of the soul, and pantheism, from which he came to the conclusion, “God in all things.”[2] Another important belief he got was that movement was equivalent to energy. Where there was energy, there was movement, and vice versa. Before the 19th-century, scholars and historians, based on superficial reading, considered Bruno to be a deist and magician; both conceptions have still carried on today and hang over his name, but have mostly been rejected through serious reading. He read Aristotle, whom he thought pedantic and dry; Copernicus, whose cosmological theory impacted Bruno; Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, from which he borrowed the doctrine of infinite world; and Nicholas of Cusa, who provided for Bruno theological inspiration.


Unknown-2.jpegThe Art of Memory and On the Shadows of Ideas were published in 1582. These two works were written by Bruno on mnemonics and were considered to be alchemical and occult in nature. With seemingly divine inspiration, Bruno devised secret techniques to memorize things, allowing him, it is said, to visualize and draw out a mental map of the entire cosmos in his head. The art of memory, as he put it, was reserved for mystics and was conceived of as obscure, a practice only for those trained in it, people like Paracelsus. This is the main reason many compared him to a mage-like figure, as the art of mnemonics was comparable to magic. Bruno ascribed to the cosmos a system of relativism, asserting that there was no “center of the Universe.” Despite increasing infinitely, the Universe had no center; center, for Bruno, was relative to where a spectator was standing. At any point in the Universe a person could say he is at the center. Just as there is no fixed center, there is no absolute motion or time. Motion, it is important to remember, requires a reference point. An object is in motion insofar as it is moving in relation to an object, meaning that motion is relative. Similarly, time is not some absolute unit of measurement, but is rather used to measure something in reference to something else, usually motion. Epicurus, interestingly, offered a similar view: “As for unbounded space, we should not predicate ‘above’ or ‘below’ of any parts of it in the sense of a highest or lowest point. We can refer to what is over our heads relative to where we stand.”[3] Further, Aristotle was wrong about absolute weight, Bruno said. There is no intrinsic heaviness or lightness of a Heliocentric.jpgplanet, as Aristotle said; rather, every planet’s weight was to be determined respective to itself. Bruno was a champion of Heliocentrism, the belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not the other way around. This theory was first propounded by Aristarchus of Samos, but was taken up most memorably by Copernicus, who revolutionized it. The Roman astronomer Ptolemy wrote that the Earth was the body around which the Sun revolved, and it stuck, ultimately being taken up by the Church, which it held to be factual. Thus, Bruno made himself a target to the Church, but he would be proven right centuries later. He claimed, albeit incorrectly, that all planetary bodies had a  circular course. Aristotle posed the question of a Prime Mover, taken by some to be an argument for God, to account for the motion of the Celestial bodies: If causation is based on some prior cause, what was the first cause that started it all? According to Aristotle, some kind of Supreme being must have caused the first thing in the Universe, giving way to the rest of the Universe. Bruno, however, disagreed with this notion, relying instead on his Hermeticism and Hylozoism—the belief that matter is alive, which he borrowed from Aristotle, incidentally—to explain that the planets had their own intrinsic movement. Bruno thought energy and movement were related, so he stated that the planets moved by themselves, as though they had their own impetus. There is no need for a Prime Mover in Bruno’s world because the planets move themselves. Most famously, Bruno supported the idea that there is a plurality of worlds out there in space. His magnum 3-plurality-of-worlds-leonhard-euler-science-source.jpgopuses On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1591) and On the Immeasurable and Countless Worlds outline his theory in detail. In them Bruno argues that if the Universe is infinite and always growing, there must be infinite planets and habitable Earths like ours. He also said that Copernicus could only make out eight planets in the solar system; but if the senses are limited in their capacities, Bruno argued, that would mean they could not grasp the possibly unlimited planets beyond us. Some mistakenly attribute to Bruno the creation of this theory; however, Epicurus again sets the precedent: “And the number of worlds is infinite, some worlds being similar to this one, while other worlds are very different.”[4] Medieval scholars believed the Heavenly bodies were composed of the fifth element, Æther, which they borrowed from Aristotle. Bruno thought otherwise: He maintained they there composed of the four classical elements; there was no need for the unbounded Æther. This placed him at odds, once more, with the Church, considering this conception completely opposed Genesis. The central idea in Bruno’s philosophy is God. Combining Neoplatonism with Egyptian mysticism, Bruno’s pantheism declared God to be causa immanens, or immanent cause; in other words, God is self-caused, independent of any external causation. God exists in essence of himself. As though anticipating Leibniz, Bruno produced a theory of monadology, basically saying that reality is composed of infinite, self-contained entities called monads. God was, of course, the monas monadum—the highest monad. From this vision of God, Bruno deduced that all substance—that is to say, matter—is One, i.e., all matter is derived from the being of God; matter and God are one and the same. Particulars (circonstanzie) are explained as being specific manifestations of substance. To use an example to clarify: A chair is made of substance, substance being permeated by God, and chairs may come in many shapes and sizes, many particulars, in other words, of the one substance that is chair. Another statement Bruno makes is that God is the Universe, and the Universe God. The Universe has always existed and shall always continue to exist. There was no creation of the Universe; it did not just go poof! and appear, as it did in the Big Bang. Here, one can see the blatant influence of Parmenides. God is eternal, having no beginning, nor end; He simply has been and will be.


giordano_bruno.jpgMoments before his auto-da-fé, Bruno was offered the cross, to which he replied, “Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”[5] These fearless words uttered from a man who was about to die carry immense heroism. Here, a man who stood up against the Church, his fate in their hands, as he says these words. What he meant by saying this was that he, Bruno, was dying for a greater cause. He devoted his life to and died in the name of Truth, knowing that while he was but a mortal man, transient in nature, Truth was undying and eternal, an ideal he fought for till the end. The Church, on the other hand, was stubborn and eschewed Truth. They say you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea—Bruno’s judges knew this. By killing Bruno in an attempt to cover up the Truth, they were not making things better, but rather released something greater and beyond their control. While he is not remembered today despite his ingenious thought regarding the cosmos, Bruno remains a martyr for science, belonging up there with Galileo. In the words of John Addington Symonds, “Bruno was a hero in the battle for freedom of the conscience, for the right of man to think and speak in liberty.”[6]

 


[1] He despised Oxford and its professors, describing them as pedantic; he got into a quarrel over an accusation of plagiarism.
[2] EdwardsThe Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1, p. 406
[3] Epicurus, Letters and Sayings of Epicurus, “Letter to Herodotus,” p. 13
[4] Id., p. 6
[5] Hecht, Doubt: A History, p. 295
[6] Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, Vol. 2, p. 799

 

For further reading: An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World Vol. 2 by Harry Elmer Barnes (1965)
Renaissance in Italy Vol. 2 by John Addington Symonds (1935)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Vol. 1 by Paul Edwards (1967)

Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht (2003)
The Idea of Nature by R.G. Collingwood (1960)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)

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Philosophers’ Eponyms: Early and Late Modern

An eponymous adjective is a type of adjective that refers to and is named after a specific person and can be used to denote their work. When describing a philosophical system, when categorizing a type of metaphysics or ethics, one might say, “That is Platonic,” meaning it resembles Plato’s philosophy. While some are better known, such as Socratic or Buddhist, others are more obscure, so here is a list—somewhat chronological—of philosophers’ eponyms! (Of course, seeing as there are hundreds of philosophers, some will not be mentioned).

Renaissance

Petrarchan: Pertaining to Petrarch

Erasmian: Pertaining to Desiderius Erasmus
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Machiavellian: Pertaining to Niccolò Machiavelli

Early Modern

Baconian: Pertaining to Francis Bacon
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Cartesian: Pertaining to René Descartes

Hobbesian: Pertaining to Thomas Hobbes

Leibnizian: Pertaining to Gottfried Leibniz

Spinozan: Pertaining to Baruch Spinoza

Pascalian: Pertaining to Blaise Pascal
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Lockean: Pertaining to John Locke

Humean: Pertaining to David Hume

Enlightenment

Voltairean: Pertaining to Voltaire
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Rousseauian: Pertaining to Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Kantian: Pertaining to Immanuel Kant

Post-Kantian

Fichtean: Pertaining to Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Hegelian: Pertaining to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Marxist: Pertaining to Karl Marx

Kierkegaardian: Pertaining to Søren Kierkegaard
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Schopenhauerian: Pertaining to Arthur Schopenhauer

Emersonian: Pertaining to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thoreauvian: Pertaining to Henry David Thoreau

Nietzschean: Pertaining to Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

Philosophers’ Eponyms: Greco-Roman

An eponymous adjective is a type of adjective that refers to and is named after a specific person and can be used to denote their work. When describing a philosophical system, when categorizing a type of metaphysics or ethics, one might say, “That is Platonic,” meaning it resembles Plato’s philosophy. While some are better known, such as Socratic or Buddhist, others are more obscure, so here is a list—somewhat chronological—of philosophers’ eponyms! (Of course, seeing as there are hundreds of philosophers, some will not be mentioned).

Presocratic/Eastern

Xenophanic: Pertaining to Xenophanes of Colon
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Pythagorean: Pertaining to Pythagoras of Samos

Buddhist: Pertaining to The Buddha

Heraclitean: Pertaining to Heraclitus

Confucian: Pertaining to Confucius
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Parmenidean: Pertaining to Parmenides

Empedoclean: Pertaining to Empedocles of Acragas

Democritean: Pertaining to Democritus of Abdera

Prodicean: Pertaining to Prodicus

Protagorean: Pertaining to Protagoras

Classic

Socratic: Pertaining to Socrates

Platonic: Pertaining to Plato

Aristotelian: Pertaining to Aristotle
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Hellenistic

Stoic: Pertaining to Stoics
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Epicurean: Pertaining to Epicurus

Cynic: Pertaining to Cynics

Pyrrhonian: Pertaining to Pyrrho

Plotinian: Pertaining to Plotinus

Imperial/Roman

Ciceronian: Pertaining to Cicero

Senecan: Pertaining to Seneca the Younger

Lucretian: Pertaining to Lucretius

Plutarchian: Pertaining to Plutarch

Augustinian: Pertaining to St. Augustine
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Who was Pierre Hadot?

Unknown-1.jpegPierre Hadot was born in Reims, France on February 21, 1922, to a Catholic family. Raised in a Catholic household, Hadot would be influenced in his views later in life by such beliefs, although he soon renounced his religious beliefs, finding them incompatible with his life. His experience with Catholicism, however, would not be completely over, as it would play a bigger role when he began studying mysticism. When studying at college, Hadot befriended the eminent Aquinas scholar Jacques Maritain, who was prolific in his works. Thomism is a combination of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism, and through working with Maritain, Hadot developed a fascination with ancient and medieval philosophy and mysticism. It was around this time in Hadot’s life that he began questioning his faith. He got started in Biblical criticism, asking himself whether Catholicism was viable as a way of life and whether ancient manuscripts could still be understood in the modern age.


From 1942-6, Hadot claimed he went through a “metaphysical phase,” in which he turned his attention to religious mysticism, specifically the Gnosticism of Plotinus, a post-Unknown-2.jpegPlatonic philosopher who had a considerable influence on Christianity. Hadot went to the Sorbonne for two years, from 1946-7, where he found Existentialism, Marxism, and Bergsonism, each of which would have a profound effect on his thinking. Some important lessons Hadot learned from his times there were praxis, perception, and experience, respectively. It was important to Hadot that philosophy be centered around action, and that we pay attention to how we perceive the world, how we experience it individually. In the same year, Hadot collaborated with Paul Henry on a translation and commentary of a work by the Neoplatonist Marius Victorinus, a thitherto untranslated author, earning him acclaim in the intellectual world. Hadot had the honor of writing the commentary by himself, which sparked his love for philology—the study of ancient texts—and the works of ancient philosophers. Just as with the Bible, Hadot wondered whether old texts could be used in daily life.


Hadot’s early writings took place between the period of 1957-68. He read Heidegger and Wittgenstein in the late 1950’s, and the latter again in 1960; he was particularly
influenced by Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus, a favorite quote of his being, “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.” Hadot was the first author to introduce Wittgenstein to French audiences. It was in 1957 that Hadot got into Plotinian philosophy, and his first book came out six years later, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision, at the urging of his colleagues. From there, he continued writing commentaries on Plato and Plotinus before switching to Hellenistic philosophy. He moved away from Plato, focusing instead on Stoicism and Epicureanism—two schools that offered a practical way of life, he felt. Hadot received his diploma from the École Pratique de Hautes Études (The Practical School of Higher Studies) in 1961. The same year, he was elected to the Fifth Section: Religious Sciences; three years later, he became the director thereof. Then, in 1982, Hadot was awarded the prestigious position of chair of History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France; he got this position without going to the École Normale Supérieure, to which most professors are expected to go before getting such a title.


Hadot did not like the way philosophy was taught in school. Too much time and effort was wasted on the theoretical and the abstract, rather than the practical and the concrete. Dialectic and discussion were valued more than practice. The scholarly Unknown-4.jpegenvironment of schools, he thought, created a cloud of obscurity over the name of philosophy. Hadot believed in living in harmony with the world and with others, a view he adopted from his extensive studies of Stoicism. When asked about how to use spiritual exercises in our daily life, Hadot replied, “We must … use striking formulations of ideas in order to exhort ourselves. We must create habits, and fortify ourselves by preparing ourselves against hardships in advance.”[1] This quote also expresses Hadot’s opinions on reason. According to Hadot, man should use his reason to perfect himself, to “exercise” himself, so to say. Spiritual exercises, for Hadot, were about perfecting the character and living life to its fullest.


At the age of 88, Pierre Hadot died on April 24, 2010, with 15 books to his name. His most famous works are Philosophy as a Way of Life, What is Ancient Philosophy?, The Inner Citadel, and, of course, his first book, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision. Thanks to Hadot, philosophy has been studied in a new direction, a direction of which he would be proud, which sees philosophy not as abstract reasoning, but as a manière de vivre, a way of life. Through his brilliant interpretation of ancient manuscripts, insightful commentaries on obscure authors, and fresh style of writing, Hadot reinvented the study of philosophy, making it accessible to all readers. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, was, in Hadot’s eyes, an endless quest for the truth, for the best way of living, from Socrates to Foucault. Overall, looking at Hadot’s life, it is evident philosophy was, for him, a way of life.

 


[1] Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 284

 

For further reading: Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot (1995)

Who Was Jonathan Edwards?

During the 1740’s in America, there was a massive movement that swept through New England called the “Great Awakening,” in which religious fervor reached soaring heights. As a result, the colonies became heavily influenced by Protestantism, with families going to church to hear the itinerant preachers, leading to the domination of religious feelings. However, the Great Awakening is also responsible for giving rise to one of the first and greatest philosophers in American history: Jonathan Edwards. Despite being strictly Calvinist, Edwards has gone down in philosophical history as one of the greatest minds in America as well as one of the defining figures in the tradition of idealism.


Unknown-1.jpegEdwards was born in 1703, and it was evident he was destined for great things; at the age of 13, he was admitted to Yale. The young Edwards was always curious, nearly as bright and prolific as any professional writer, for he wrote numerous essays before going to college, his interests ranging from biology to philosophy, from spiders to metaphysics. Edwards was introduced to Newton and Locke a year after coming to Yale, diving head first into the most recent groundbreaking thought, committing himself to both men’s ideas. Three years later, when he was only 17, Edwards graduated, and in 1734, he began preaching in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he stayed until 1748, when he was forced out of his position by angry churchgoers, finally becoming a missionary for the Native Americans. From sources we know that Edwards was intensely passionate about his work—so dedicated was he that on summer mornings he would wake up at four, and in winter, at four. It worked out that Edwards became head of the Congregationalist Church since his grandfather was Solomon Stoddard, the former pastor. In 1662 the Half-Way Covenant was put into effect. This rule made it so that only select people could attain church membership, and if they baptized their children, they, too, could be members of the church. Stoddard removed the covenant while pastor, but Edwards had different ideas, so he reversed his grandfather’s decision and made it stricter than the covenant, for he wesley.jpgrestricted church membership to saints and saint alone, reserving communion only for the elects. Edwards was a notorious speaker. His sermons were not traditional, insofar as he ruled through fear. H.W. Brands writes, “[H]is auditors shrieked and moaned, their horror exceeded only by the exquisiteness of their agony…. At least one listener was so moved that he decided to end his life rather than continue his torment.”[1] It is no surprise, then, why his outraged followers kicked him out of the church. And, interestingly, he was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, and the writer O. Henry was a descendant of his. 


Having read Locke at a young age, Edwards’ metaphysics were based on his education. His thought mirrors closely that of George Berkeley’s, but it is generally agreed that Edwards did not read his works but rather thought of his system on his own. Edwards concurred with Berkeley, claiming that secondary qualities—like color, texture, and smell—were conceived in the mind. He reasoned that primary qualities were really just different applications of resistance: solidity was pure resistance, figure is the termination of resistance, and motion is the communication between two resistances. This raises the question of how resistance comes to be, how resistance can exist outside the mind. According to Edwards, resistance is God’s doing, and if resistance is not resisting anything, which, he thinks, is irrational, then it is simply resistance. Therefore, if resistance is external to men’s minds, and if resistance is the work of God, then it must Unknown-2.jpegfollow that this world in which we live is God’s creation—his mental creation, that is. Like Berkeley, Edwards conceived of a unique subjective idealism, since he saw reality as the mental creation of God. A contemporary group at the time, the Cambridge Platonists, spread Platonic thought to America, where Edwards absorbed it, using it in his own philosophy. The corporeal, physical world is imperfect, flawed, illusory, a phantasmagoria, a faulty reflection of the otherwise perfect spiritual reality wherein God resides. Similar to the Allegory of the Cave, Edwards believed salvation was like getting out of the cave: man, rescued from his chains of illusion, sees the magnificence that is God. Regarding the nature of God, Edwards acknowledged the impossibility of there existing any being outside of Being, which Edwards interprets as existence in all that it encompasses. But because God is Being, He is non-solid; and he asserted alongside Parmenides that nothingness cannot exist, so God is space, God is omnipresent. Further, since God created reality, it means that nature is God manifest, and since God is beautiful, nature is beautiful. Edwards adopted Malebranche’s causal theory of Occasionalism, stating that events happen in coordination with God’s will. For example, if an object is dropped, it just happened to drop at the same time God willed it to drop. Edwards took it further and distinguished two causal necessities: natural and moral. Natural necessity is an external hindrance, one that is external, and it must happen; the latter is an internal inhibition, and while it seems out of our control, it really is not. A natural necessity would be hunger, as it is out of power and must happen, whereas a moral necessity might be gluttony, as while feeding ourselves is necessary, overindulging is not. Impulses, therefore, are common moral necessities. Edwards’ most famous sermon is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), in which he says that, because God created this world and us, we owe it to him to be faithful, otherwise he will destroy us all—it also created the strongest uproar:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.

You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment;…

adam-eve5.jpgIn his essay The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1757), Edwards defends the idea that man is, by nature, sinful. Carrying the burden of Adam upon his back, man has fallen from grace. Originally given two motives, self-love and benevolence, man was stripped of the latter when he upset God, meaning man acts purely out of self-interest, which, although some good can come of it and is to some extent necessary, is primarily bad. His next essay, A Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue (1765), draws a connection between virtue and beauty, stating that the former is a form of the latter, particularly in the form of benevolence, which, as Edwards said, was taken away from us. But of beauty he distinguishes two types: natural and divine. Natural beauty is that which occurs in the world, and it comprises unity, harmony, and variety. This beauty is acquired through the senses. When we see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything which has unity, harmony, or variety, we think it beautiful. Harmony, he posits, is proportional to an object’s Being. A nobler object will have more Being than an ignoble object, and thus more harmony. But Edwards does not see beauty as a property that objects have but a relationship between subject and object. An object cannot be beautiful unless it is seen as agreeable by a viewer. Divine beauty, on the other hand, is knowledge of God in nature. Benevolence, the most sought after virtue according to Edwards, is defined as the love Being, of existence, in all its entirety. Benevolence to Edwards is not how it is to us, traditionally, for Edwards sees it as Unknown-1.jpegintransitive rather than transitive; in essence, Edwards thinks of benevolence not as directed toward a person, nor even as being directed, but as openness to everything. Instead of being benevolent toward this person, or toward that tree, we must be benevolent of Being. This is troublesome, though, because Edwards says we do not have the capability of being benevolent, despite its being the highest virtue. Edwards insisted that grace is what enables us to be virtuous, and grace comes from God himself; therefore, only a few people have the fortune of being endowed with grace, and so with benevolence. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746) deals with what Edwards calls the “religious feeling,” which he defines as the total dependence on God. (This view is astoundingly prescient of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theory of Abhängigkeitsgefühl, or absolute dependence). Edwards rejected the compartmentalization of the mind, but he kept the idea that there were two faculties—understanding, or heart, or sensation, and inclination, or volition, or will. In addition to the five senses, Edwards explored the idea of an incredibly rare sixth sense: divination. He did say, however, that we all are given a moral conscience which allows us to share a common view of justice, similar to a collective unconscious. Just as Edwards and Schleiermacher shared views on dependence, so they had in common the idea that emotion is superior to intellect. The religious life was man’s only end, thought Edwards; as such, the religious life could not be lived through the mind but through the heart. Emotion, he claimed, is God-given, so we ought to use.


There was a distinction drawn between goodness and godliness, for Edwards thought the two obfuscated the definition of virtue. Goodness can be achieved by anyone and therefore is not true virtue. Goodness can be viewed as Aristotelian virtues, such as bravery, temperance, and prudence. Benevolence is true virtue, and it is an example of godliness, as it is synonymous with sublimity. Only saints are endowed with grace, meaning only saints can be virtuous, or benevolent. The spiritual life, in addition, is a lifelong commitment, lived until death, so it was up to the saint to take care of his “gracious sincerity.” Edwards was certain that normal people can be good and will be remorseful on Judgment Day; saints, however, can be godly and will repent on Judgment Day. This is the reason Edwards reserved church membership for saints. Saints were predestined to achieve salvation, and they had access to benevolence. Edwards then tackled the Problem Unknown-3.jpegof Free Will in his essay The Freedom of the Will (1754). The difficult thing for Edwards was reconciling Calvinist predestination and Newtonian determinism with Lockean freedom. Edwards began by defining “will” as “choice.” He subscribed to folk psychology, which states that words like will, preference, desire, and inclination all mean the same thing and refer to volition, the will to do things. Will was a passive force, influenced the active force of God. When we are faced with a decision, Edwards said we choose the greatest good, strongest urge at the time. Basically, Edwards took the side of Schopenhauer, who said, “Man can do what he will, but he cannot will what he does,” by which he means that our choices are determined, but we ourselves are free to act upon them. Freedom was synchronicity with God’s will in the eyes of Edwards. This supports his Occasionalism: if what we choose to do coincides with what God willed us to do, then we have done something morally done, but if we choose something contrary to God’s will, we have committed sin. Choices, Edwards thought, were open to praise and blame, as we have our own motives on which we act; a wicked motive, for instance, means a bad choice, so we deserve blame, and vice versa.

 


[1] Brands, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, p. 147

 

For further reading: 
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands (2000)
The Growth of the American Republic Vol. 1 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1956)
Men and Movements in American Philosophy by Joseph L. Blau (1952)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 2 by Paul Edwards (1967)
Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)
American Philosophy by Marcus G. Singer (1985)

The German Romantic Philosophers (5 of 5)

And so at last we arrive at the finale of the overview of German Idealism, and, more generally, Romanticism. In the previous part, I looked at Humboldt, whose work in linguistics and education has carried over to today, and Schleiermacher, whose notion of Absolute dependence advocated a unique sense of individualism, a common theme throughout Romanticism, along with the already-discussed opposites, such as faith and reason, intuition and logic. Finally, we look at philosophy itself and the defining nature of it with Schlegel and Schelling.

Unknown-4.jpegIt is safe to say that Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Schlegel (1772-1829), brother to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, another eminent Romantic figure, is more literary critic than philosopher; yet I have included him, for his contribution to philosophy, albeit small in extent, has indelibly directed the trajectory in which philosophy itself was heading. Because there is a lack of information regarding his philosophical background, I feel it appropriate to focus more on his career, which played out as follows: Schlegel was born to a literary family, evidenced by his and his brother’s place in Romanticism, with Friedrich studying European history, Ancient and Modern literature, and the philosophy of history, all of which plays a part in his role as a philosopher. Schiller classified two types of poets: the Naïve and the Sentimental, the former practical, the latter idealistic; Schlegel studied Schiller, and he took this distinction further, applying it to the Romantic and the Classicist, perhaps the turning point in the self-consciousness of Romanticism, insofar as Schlegel was one of the first Romantics to lead the movement by defining it against something else, in this case Classicism, which was identified with the rational Enlightenment period. Of all philosophical branches, there exists one which is incredibly introspective: metaphilosophy. Metaphilosophy, associated with Schlegel, who is sometimes called the first “metaphilosopher,” is quite literally the philosophy of philosophy. Schlegel began by dismissing first principles–the fundamental proposition on which all other propositions are founded. For example, Fichte’s pure ego and Descartes’
cogito ergo sum are all first principles, in that it is impossible to assert anything without first asserting the pure ego or cogito, as they are the foundations of philosophy, at least in the systems of Fichte and Descartes, respectively. It was pointed out by Schlegel that first principles are misleading, since they are not truly first principles: they too are propositions that require another, prior proposition, therefore creating an infinite regress, an infinite sUnknown-7.jpegeries of statements with no clear, reducible beginning. “Philosophizing was primarily a matter of intuitive insights, not of deductive reasoning or of proof.”[1] Once more there is the valuing of intuition contra “deductive reasoning,” inasmuch as proofs will always require proof, whereas intuition is direct and without need of explanation. Reasoning is to intuition as conception is to perception. Another notion Schlegel was enthralled by was irony, the intentional contradiction of that which is reasonable, of that which is real, of that which is ordered. If one statement must be built upon another before it, then it goes without saying that there exist other statements contrary to it, tens of them. In this sense, the ironist transcends his limits; the ironist rises above order, above the world. Just as every person can have a separate opinion, so every statement can have a contradiction; therefore, we arrive at the conclusion that there is no absolute answer, no starting point of philosophy, for philosophy “must start in the middle…. It is no straight line but a circle.”[2] Schlegel is saying that philosophy has no starting line; philosophy is not linear; it does not go from one point to the other; and for that matter, there is no end point, rather a loop that connects it all, running round and round, with no real goal in mind. Metaphilosophy, then, serves as the first holistic analysis of philosophy, the first check of many on the limits of philosophy and its intentions.


Unknown-3.jpegWhat is more fitting than to end this series with a look at its most shaping character, one whose philosophy encompasses all others I have previously explained, whose philosophy captures the true definition of Romanticism, whose philosophy has influenced countless poets and philosophers after him? I speak here of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), the last German Idealist we will be looking at. The other major metaphysician beside Fichte, Schelling created the more accepted of the two theories and has thus been welcomed with open arms. The philosophy of Schelling is appropriately called Naturphilosophie, as it revolves around the core concept of, you guessed it: Nature. Should you seek to read more about Schelling, you will find that historians tend to describe his system of thought in stages, four of them in most cases, each describing a different change in his thought since he did change his thought quite a bit; however, in organizing this section, about which I thought heavily as to how I should best explain it, I decided to go chronologically in terms of the creation of the world to the goal of the world; as such, I will be explaining one aspect, then jumping to a new one which builds upon it. Accordingly, Schelling begins with the creation of the world, a Cosmic Fall, as it is referred. Mirroring the Fall of Man outlined in the Bible, Schelling identifies this period as Man’s break with God. This God, which is sometimes used interchangeably with Nature in Schelling, is essentially the physical manifestation of chaos, ungrund, initially. At this stage God is indistinguishable, for He is literally an amorphous energy, with a great evil lurking within Him. Essence, or spirit, and ground, or matter, dual elements, compose God. In the beginning, there is more ground in God than essence, and hence there is a lack of balance, resulting in evil. When spirit is subordinate to ground, there can be no good, just pure anarchy and amorality. Evil has a reason for existing, though: evil exists solely to 'Adam's_Creation_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling'_by_Michelangelo_JBU33cut.jpgbe separated, inasmuch as there can be no good unless there is evil from which it can spring forth. Man then separates from God in a period of Genesis, where Man is expelled, cast out, broken off, an act called Abbrechen, or Sprung, from God. Since God is evil, since Man springs from God, Man is inherently evil, and so there exists deep within him a great darkness. From this point on, I will be referring to God as the Absolute spirit, or the Absolute, which at this stage is synonymous with Nature. The Absolute comprises a symbiosis between life and spirit, matter and nature, all of which are equivalent. If this is the case, then the Absolute pervades all, is all, thereby making Schelling’s philosophy one of pantheism. The goal of the Absolute is ultimate self-recognition. The Absolute does not know itself, yet it seeks to; within it is a yearning, a desire for self-consciousness, for recognition, for actualization. Were the Absolute to reach its end, were it to become aware of itself eventually, there would be no distinction between that which is the Absolute and that which is not, meaning everything would be made void; hence self-recognition is impossible for the Absolute, so its striving for awareness is infinite, with no end; while it can get closer and closer to recognizing itself with each adaption, it will never completely grasp itself. Such is a metaphor for Romanticism itself and the atmosphere it created–a yearning for something, something that is missing yet unknowable, a never-ending ambition for that which can never be attained, an unquenchable feeling known as Sehnsucht. As a result, the Absolute is never static but dynamic, in constant flux, more like the flowing river than the immobile rock. The process whereby the Absolute seeks itself is what Schelling calls Absolute abstraction, a process in which the Absolutes ego finds itself in opposition to the non-ego in hopes of finding itself. It is pretty much ripped right out of Fichte’s writing, this absolute abstraction, and not by accident, as Schelling read and was remarkably influenced by Fichte, but the former eventually divorced himself from the latter in his later writings. From the viewpoint of humans, the Absolute is not knowable through reason but intuition. “The nature of the Absolute itself… cannot be known by explanation, but only through intuition. For it is only the composite which can be known by description. The simple must be intuited.”[3] Jacobi is brought to mind here, his use of faith instead of reason to perceive things-in-themselves, his insistence on the simple rather than the complex. We arrive now at perhaps one of the most fascinating stages of images-1.jpegSchelling: the idea of a primitive evolution of sorts. He explains it in this way: “History as a whole is a continual revelation of the Absolute, a revelation which gradually discloses it.”[4] Tying in with the notion of self-recognition, the entire course of history has, since its beginning, worked its way up to now, constantly evolving, never stopping, increasingly becoming more and more sentient, more receptive. “Gradually,” Schelling says, the Absolute “discloses” as its complexity grows greater than before. Evolution moves from death to life, from the inorganic to the organic, and from the organic to spirit, and from spirit to freedom, which the highest point of an organism’s potential. Interestingly, while he is not correct according to today’s scientific standards, Schelling based this creation of his on the latest scientific findings of his day, making his idea of evolution, albeit prototypical, the most accurate for his time. The world began, then abiotic (inorganic) things, like rocks, began to spring up, followed by biotic (organic) things, like trees, leading to animals (spirit), and finally freedom (what the manifestation of this stage is will be saved for later). After this, Schelling, angered by Hegel, whom he accused of stealing his ideas, inspiring an irresoluble grudge between the two despite their being roommates in college, thought it necessary to distinguish two types of philosophies: positive philosophy, the correct type, in which Schelling placed himself, and negative philosophy, the wrong type, in which he placed Hegel. The difference between the two was that positive philosophy was dedicated to existence, whereas negative philosophy was dedicated to the speculative, the logical, which as we know, was considered contemptible during the Romantic period. Schelling has led some to think him an early proponent of Existentialism as a result of this stage in his philosophy, stage characterized by his question of “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”[5] Schelling’s epistemology consisted of a four-part flow: sensation, perception, reflection, and will. Starting with sensation, the individual, á la Fichte, limits himself, opening himself to the world, to that which he is not; i.e., he differentiates his self from the world, therefore receiving it. This leads to perception, where the individual then recognizes the external world and makes sense out it. Now that the individual has a sense of the external, he must engage in the internal, or introspection, looking inside of himself. It is with this dual knowledge, inside and out, that he can will, which allows for him to act upon this knowledge as well as interact with other minds, other people. Schelling’s metaphysics, I said, have impacted many a fine Unknown-6.jpegpoet, most notably, mayhap, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was enchanted with this image of a living, pantheistic Nature, serving as the impetus for a number of his poems. Now we will talk about Schelling’s views on aesthetics and how Man fits into it all. We have spoken about God, the Absolute, and we have touched on the individual, specifically his origin and his source of knowledge; howbeit, we have not actually talked in depth about the nature of Man himself. In Schelling’s evolution, the final stage is freedom. Just below freedom is spirit, which is the creation of animals. Freedom, then, this final step in evolution, the most perfect organism, that which can have no superior, is none other than Man. But what makes humans different from animals? Are not we animals, after all? What makes humans different from and superior to animals is his ability to introspect. Recall that humans, through reflection, can internalize empirical information. Remember, too, that matter and nature are synonymous. Man happens to be actualized matter in the ladder of evolution, giving us the following syllogism:

Matter is Nature
Man is actualized Matter
Therefore Man is Nature

Man can thus do what the Absolute can only wish of doing: become self-aware. According to Schelling’s evolution, Man is the physical manifestation of freedom; Man is freedom in the physical embodiment of freedom! Since Man is self-conscious, and Man is Nature, it means Nature, too, is conscious; so Man, Nature, is able to discover himself, Nature. We come to the conclusion that Man is the highest being, evidently, and is necessary for the Absolute. “Nature is nothing more than the lifeless aggregate of an indeterminable crowd of objects…. Or the space in which… he [the artist] imagines things placed,”[6] writes Schelling. Nature is defined here as the place in which the artist acts, similar to Fichte’s theory of the world. He adds: “To philosophize about nature is to create nature.”[7] For this reason, Nature exists so we can shape it, so we can mold it to our liking. Just as there can be perfect art, so there can imperfect art, asserts Schelling. Imitation is seen as deplorable, like Plato said in the Republic, since it shames and blemishes Nature. Even worse are frauds, who say Nature is “not merely a dumb, but an altogether lifeless image.”[8] Such are enemies of beauty. Fine art, on the other hand, Schelling pairs with a Unknown-8.jpegbalance of form and soul, each of which is essential, meaning no one can be more dominant than the other. (As in the preponderance of ground over essence in God, imbalance results in evil.) The balance between the two necessities is achieved by grace, which Schelling finds to be the most important part of a work of art. On the act of creating art, of being a divine artist, Schelling writes: “Art springs only from that powerful striving of the inmost powers of the heart and spirit, which we call inspiration.”[9] Heart and spirit can be likened to the very relation of form and spirit, with emotion paired with faith. “Art, therefore, prefers to grasp immediately at the highest and most developed, the human form.” [10] Unfortunately, the greatest artists of the past, be they Homer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or van Gogh, will only come around once, according to Schelling. No one will ever emulate their greatness, nor will anyone be able to do what they did; but there will be new ones, now and in the future. While we may not recreate the great Greek sculptures or Sistine frescoes, we can create new works of art that will be looked upon and admired. The final sentence of Schelling’s essay “On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature” is equally haunting as it is inspiring: “Nature never repeats herself.”[11]

 

 


[1] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 19
[2] Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. 18, p. 518
[3] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 15-6
[4] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 2, p. 603
[5] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 309
[6] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 446
[7] Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 369
[8] Adams, op. cit., p. 446
[9] Id., p. 457
[10] Id., p. 450
[11] Id., p. 468

 

 

For further reading: 
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Schlegel
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
 by Hazard Adams (1971)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)

The German Romantic Philosophers (4 of 5)

Having gone over Schiller’s writings on aesthetics and their relation to humanity and freedom, having examined Fichte’s extensive metaphysical and ethical theories, which were inspired by Kant, we will briefly look at the educational and religious advancements made during Romanticism. Schiller thought art was humanity’s greatest achievement and was integral to being free, and in Fichte we saw a move toward the subjective and active, with emphasis on the individual and the world he creates for himself. Now we discuss Humboldt and Schleiermacher.

Unknown.jpegWilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was the esteemed brother of Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer and scientist, with Charles Darwin being an admirer of his, who traveled the world collecting new plants and studying temperatures around the globe. This blog is not about his brother, though; but it does not go without saying that the Humboldts were a talented bunch, given that Wilhelm was a philosopher, educator, diplomat, political theorist, and linguist. The most lasting impression left by Wilhelm is his contribution to education, earning him the title of “the Francis Bacon of revival learning,”[1] in the words of Will Durant. During Wilhelm’s time, there were several high-ranked universities, the famous University of Jena, where Fichte and Schiller studied, among them. Assigned the duty of reforming the Prussian education system, Humboldt sought to secularize the university, taking the emphasis off of religious studies and placing it on more liberal arts. The Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly the University of Berlin, was founded by Humboldt in 1811. A fan of the Humanities, Humboldt required their teaching in his school, his interests in Ancient Greece prevailing, especially with the introduction of philosophy as a main course. In addition to philosophy, Humboldt required within the curriculum chemistry, history, and various other social sciences which he felt were more practical, more beneficial to the student, so as to prepare them for life, to educate them thoroughly and revitalize their curiosity. History was largely neglected, but by making it a mainstream topic, Humboldt allowed for more development in the subject. Hegel likely would have never systematized his theory of history had Humboldt not done this, and for this we owe a great respect to Humboldt. The school was no longer a place for students to merely listen to lectures and take notes but was now transformed into a Unknown-1.jpegprofessional, top-quality institution, with students now partaking in actual research that got them involved, that got them to see their work firsthand. Humboldt also made it incredibly hard to become a teacher without credentials, therefore ensuring that students got a quality education, one that taught them memorably, effectively. It was around this time, too, that the Ph.d. was created, although it cannot be said to be created by Humboldt himself. Not only did Humboldt introduce new material into schools, but he also pioneered a new subject: philology–the interpretation of texts. As avid a linguist as Herder, Humboldt was fascinated by different languages, studying the classics, both Western and Eastern, for there was a massive surge of interest in the East at this time while their works were being discovered and passed around. In particular, Humboldt, and Schleiermacher too, was intrigued by Indian texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated and thereby popularized. This interest in experimenting with different languages led to his studies in comparative linguistics, a study continued today. Like Herder, Humboldt thought language’s place in civilization was unique, likening it to a Volksgeist, a spirit of the people (he never used Volksgeist, but it is attributed to him). He served as the Prussian diplomat to Rome and subsequently to Vienna, and he played a large role in the Napoleonic Wars toward the end, persuading several nations to unite against the French, greatly influencing the rest of the war. Humboldt was a liberal, and like Mill, he valued individual rights above the government, which he thought should be small and limited so it would not infringe on the people’s rights.


Unknown-2.jpegThe greatest theologian of Romanticism was Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). At the core of Schleiermacher’s philosophy is Absolute dependence, Abhängigkeitsgefühl, what he calls the “religious feeling,” since the feeling, once achieved and properly perpetuated, inspires awe and a deep sense of faith. This faith is invested entirely in God and in nothing else, like Martin Luther. He reserved religious practice, not for transcendental knowledge but Absolute dependence; in other words, were a Neoplatonist or Christian to meditate with the end of reaching the Good, of seeing God, or of awakening to reality as, say, a Buddhist would, then they are doing it for the wrong reason, insofar as Schleiermacher thought religious activity was meant to strengthen one’s belief, to establish one’s piety, to place one’s life in the hands of God, i.e., to make them dependent on Him, absolutely, wholly; therefore, dependence is not to be placed on anything outside of the world, on some other reality, but on God Himself. Absolute dependence can only be achieved by looking inward, not by rationalizing, nor by acting. It is a sensation deep within the individual, and it must be found through self-consciousness and intuition. Faith and faith alone is the tool for being pious to God. If thought comes to fruition in being, as in knowledge, then it becomes Nature; and if being comes to fruition in thought, as in moral law, then it becomes spirit. Essentially, God is a combination of Nature and spirit who can be depended upon by means of intuition, for he is so vast that reason cannot envisage Him. Intuition allows us to embrace the Absolute, to feel it, and to understand the Universe, notwithstanding its infinitude. The relation between God and Universe is complicated, as God is not synonymous with Universe, yet He is also not anonymous with Universe; rather, they are correlative and work in the same sphere, so to speak. Schleiermacher can be considered a pantheist, in that he believed God is immanent; God permeates our reality. In fact, he says we are each unique parts of God Himself, Eigentümlichkeit, individual descendants of His, with special characteristics and talents. This individualistic doctrine is interesting coming from a theologian, for he not only expressing our relation with God, but he is also expressing our uniqueness, both in personality and in talent, which he thought we should look for, perfect, and flaunt in our own ways. Furthermore, this sets up an axiomatic relationship between the individual and the community: uniqueness implies that it is unique compared to other things, meaning there must be a community of other unique individuals, and community implies there are different people within it, meaning there must be uniqueness. Both Schleiermacher and Humboldt innovated their own disciplines: Humboldt innovated philology, and Schleiermacher hermeneutics, which has the same premise as philology, except that it focuses primarily on religious, spiritual, and philosophical works than language in general. Another similarity between Humboldt and Schleiermacher is their love of Eastern images.jpegtexts. “For Schleiermacher… the source of all religion ‘can be found’ in the unconscious or in the Orient, from whence all religions came.”[2] Hermeneutics is all about interpretation, be it of the book, the history, or the author. Schleiermacher is credited with engineering the hermeneutic circle, a method whereby an interpreter can study the work effectively. The first step is to understand the background or context of the work. One must find when the work was written, where it was written, and why it was written. Once the background is researched, one then studies the grammatical and psychological aspects of it, which means analyzing the language, syntax, and grammar of the work and the mental attitude of he who wrote it. Understanding what beliefs the author had at the time and what he was thinking allows for a personal connection with the text and allows the reader deeper within the text. Lastly, the interpreter looks at the piece in sections and holistically, switching between the two to get a better grasp of the general structure and specific details. This method has been adapted into editing in writing, for it has proved effective in finding organization and finding information the writer is trying to convey.

 


[1] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 10, p. 606
[2] Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, p. 219

For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

 

The German Romantic Philosophers (3 of 5)

With Jacobi we found a scathing attack against the rationality of the Enlightenment. He found it sickly, believing instead we should stick to our emotions and our faith. The theme of faith, of intuition, will appear several more times, the former appearing in Fichte. Similarly, Jacobi popularized the idea of activity over speculation. This we shall see in Fichte as well. In this post we will look at Romanticism from an aesthetic and metaphysical position.

Unknown-6.jpegOne of the greatest aesthetes of the Romantic period, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805) was a prolific writer, his On the Aesthetic Education of Man a series of letters that explain his views on art, on society, and on how the two must be put together, which we will be assessing. Continuing the tripartite tradition of the human mind, inspired by Plato and inspiring Freud, Schiller said there were three drives that actively shaped the mind. The first drive was the sense-drive, the Stofftrieb. Like Freud’s Id, the Stofftrieb is primordial, the one inherent at birth which seeks out the material and is instinctive. This drive is uncivilized, but it seeks out change; it seeks out its place in time. As follows, the sense-drive looks for the limited, that which is finite, that which is subject to change. In contrast the form-drive, the Formtrieb, Freud’s superego, is rational and assumes a moral position. “It insists on truth and on the right.”[1] It gives us obligations; it binds us to reason, to logic. Unlike the sense-drive, the Formtrieb desires the infinite, that which is intemporal. While the Stofftrieb is practical, the Formtrieb is recondite and obscured. Out of necessity, though, both drives cannot peacefully coexist, so there must exist a third drive, a drive that will balance them out: the play-drive, or Spieltrieb–Freud’s ego. Without this fundamental drive, humans would lack a sense of beauty. The Spieltrieb is the aesthetic sense that allows us to recognize, rationalize, and emotionalize beauty. Further, it balances out the opposing two drives, since “it will… annul all constraint too, and set man free both physically and mentally.”[2] By “play,” in play-drive, Schiller refers to pure activity, not just games. Because the play-drive is the ultimate drive, the most coveted of them, it removes all limitations from the person, allowing for them to actualize themselves, to express themselves. If beauty is to exist, Schiller maintains, there must be balance, for balance is the key to beauty. Lamenting the good ole’ days, Schiller explained that Greece was exemplary for its balance, both in its art, captured in sculptures, pottery, and paintings, and in its humanity–the perfect balance between individualism and collectivism, rationality and passion. Greek culture was united, in that there was a perfect blend of mind, sense, and intellect, which Schiller thought was paramount. Modernity, contrariwise, he felt was divided, with no clear trajectory, either in art or in humanity. Time, in Schiller’s thought, is flux. Like Heraclitus, Schiller believed time was just present moment after present moment, a continuous stream that always flowed. From there Schiller develops the balance between Stofftrieb and Formtrieb. On the surface the two drives prove to be opposing forces, but they are not, reasons Schiller, because where sense does not require the principles of form, form does not require the sensation of sense; therefore, they do not cancel each other out; rather, they limit each other, so as to prevent Unknown-8.jpegone from dominating the other, thereby maintaining an equilibrium. Were the sense-drive to dominate, it would result in hedonism, turning the person into pure force, rendering us a part of time; were the form-drive to dominate, our moral duty would be corrupted, our “selves” reduced to mere objects to be acted upon. The Stofftrieb receives, and the Formtrieb creates. Schiller also identifies different classes of artists: the naïve poet, who accepts and represents nature as it is, and the sentimental poet, who seeks nature as an ideal. There are three more divisions thereafter: the poet who is repelled from life is satirical; the poet who believes the ideal cannot be found is elegiac; and the poet who thinks the ideal present is idyllic. Aesthetics are the basis of Schiller’s system, and he suggests existentialist themes, as will Fichte. “The external world is known only as man constructs an image of it for himself,”[3] he writes, suggesting the phenomenal world is relative, implying we see the world how we choose. And in the following quote he sets up the idea that, when we embrace our sense of art, we can shape our life–we can choose who we become:

By means of aesthetic culture,… the personal worth [of man], or his dignity,… remains completely indeterminate;… he is henceforth enabled… to make of himself what he will–that the freedom to be what he ought to be is completely restored to him.[4]


Unknown-7.jpegAt last we arrive at the most influential philosopher of Romanticism: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814). In Fichte we find a turning point in Modern philosophy, his metaphysics a divergence from his predecessor Kant towards future systems of thought. An amusing anecdote about Fichte–which can be found in pretty much every book in which he is mentioned–recounts how, upon publishing his first book, An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation (1792), his name was not put on the book, leading readers to think the book was written by Kant, a follow-up critique on religion; but once Fichte’s name was revealed, he rose meteorically, although his image was tarnished by his beliefs about God as supplying us with our moral sense and by his contentious personality. Fichte begins by identifying philosophy as the Wissenschaftslehre, basically calling it the science of sciences, as it provided the basis for all other studies. Many books tend to complicate Fichte’s metaphysics, leaving the readers confused, so I will try my best to simplify and make the summary as concise, readable, and comprehensible as possible. His system is founded upon three starting principles. The first principle states that there is a pure–or transcendental, in Husserlian terminology–ego, or self. What is most important to understand about this Absolute ego is that it is objective; it is the highest form of self, and this means it cannot be known. When I say I am doing an action, the “I” represents my self, but there is still an “I” that, while I know that it exists, cannot be identified. This is what Fichte calls the first principle of philosophy. It, like Descartes’ Cogito, is the starting point of philosophy, insofar as without it, nothing else can be known for certain; therefore, we must start with the fact that there exists a pure ego. Another misconception is the idea that the Absolute ego is an entity, something that exists; the transcendental ego is, like Schiller’s Spieltrieb, pure activity, tathandlung. It is not; instead it does. Peter Watson writes, “On this account, Fichte portrays the self as: ‘It wills, alters, carves up the world both in thought and in action, in accordance with its own concepts and categories.’”[5] Fichte was an admirer of Kant, so this principle is clearly reminiscent of Kant’s idea that the mind actively conceives and shapes the world according to its categories. The second principle is as follows: “The ego posits itself and in doing so posits the non-ego.”[6] At this point Fichtean metaphysics gets incredibly confusing with its talk of “pure egos,” normal “egos,” and “non-egos.” The above quote, simplified, states: the pure ego (the higher, objective self) sends out the ego (the self of which we are aware, of which we can speak) and a non-ego, which I will explain presently. “The ‘I,’ the ‘self’ in that sense of the word, is not the same as ‘me,’”[7] writes Isaiah Berlin. What Berlin is saying is that there are two understandings of the self: the pure ego (who we are) and the ego (who can be acted upon, who can be talked about). If someone hits me, they hit my ego, my subjective self, but not my pure ego, my objective self. Now to the non-ego. The non-ego, simply put, is the world; the non-ego is nature. Without the non-ego, we are just bodies with nothing to interact with–we are just selves. As we explained with Jacobi, the self can only be known through resistance. Black is only black if compared to white; cold only cold if compared to hot; and night only night if compared to day; therefore, the ego is only the ego if compared to that which is not the ego: reality, the physical world.

I became aware of myself, not as an element in some larger pattern but in the clash of the not-self, the Anstoss (Anstoß), the deadly impact of collision with dead matter, which I must resist and subjugate to my free creative design.[8]

In this quote Fichte explains that the ego cannot be known by looking at itself (“some larger pattern”), but rather when compared to the non-ego (“the not-self”), which is synonymous with nature (“dead matter”). In German, Anstoß (Anstoss) means “impetus,” or “kick-off,” and is extremely important to Fichte, as it denotes self-realization. When the ego recognizes itself through nature, through resistance, the Anstoß, the kick-off, occurs. Fichte writes in another work, “Who am I? Subject and object in one–the conscious being and that of which I am conscious.”[9] The subject is the ego, Unknown-9.jpegthe object the non-ego. A helpful way of thinking of the ego and non-ego is in terms of grammar: the subject is the one who acts, and the object is that which is acted upon; therefore, the ego acts on the non-ego. The self is nominative (“I”), and the non-ego is accusative (“me”). Fichte was accused of creating a system of subjective idealism, i.e., solipsism, by saying that the mind creates reality. He responded with his third and final principle, completing his dialectic. (It should be noted that the dialectic found in Hegel [thesis-antithesis-synthesis] was taken from Fichte’s writing.) In the third principle, the Absolute ego posits a finite ego and finite non-ego. This does not look much different from the second principle; all Fichte did was put a limitation on the ego and non-ego, which prevented him from falling into solipsism. The ego has a so-called productive power of imagination, says Fichte. This power allows the ego to experience the world, resulting in sensation, or empfindung. From this sensation we understand, creating concepts in the mind, then we make judgments, which commit those concepts to our thought.


[Fichte] proceeded to construct a system without any thing-in-itself, and therefore rejected the assumption of anything but what was our presentment pure and simple, making the knowing subject all in all, or at least making it produce everything from its own resources… he declared everything to be a priori.[10]

Unknown-11.jpegKant’s idea of the noumenal thing-in-itself was rejected by Fichte, who, as seen in Schopenhauer’s quote above, completely removed it in favor of the ego’s creation of the world. Schopenhauer criticized this movement in Fichte’s thought because he posited that everything comes from the mind. Whereas Kant’s ego shaped the world, Fichte’s ego created it. When Schopenhauer denounces Fichte for making “everything… a priori,” he is referring to the fact that Fichte, borrowing from Kant, said that the mind has innate categories; that is to say, the mind will automatically make sense of the natural world, or the non-ego, by nature. For example, scientific laws, according to Fichte, are not discovered and applied but are already prefigured and thus applied. We do not see objects fall and declare it the work of gravity; the concept of gravity is already hardwired into our minds, actively shaping, actively influencing our conceptions. “Knowledge is not in us, rather we are in knowledge.”[11] Therefore, knowledge of the world is within us; we understand the world inherently. Later in his thought, Fichte shifted from knowledge to faith in The Vocation of Man, which we will be exploring next.

Knowledge is not this organ: no knowledge can be its own foundation, its own proof; every knowledge presupposes a higher knowledge on which it is founded,… it is faith,… because only through this view can we fulfill our vocation.[12]

This skeptical idea of knowledge, which we will see later with Schlegel, expresses an infinite regress, so far as knowledge always builds on other knowledge, infinitely, until we reach a first principle, in Fichte’s case the pure ego. Once more we see a parallel with Jacobi in that faith is necessary to find truth. We now move to Fichte’s ethical and political theory. Fichte dedicated himself to creating a system of transcendental idealism rather than dogmatism, the belief that there is another world, a noumenal world, because the latter, he thought, introduced atheism (which he was ironically accused of), determinism, and materialism. The medial was of paramount concern for Fichte, for he, like Kant, wanted to find a way to justify free will in an apparently deterministic world. Fichte and Herder are credited as the great fathers of German nationalism, as we explored in the previous post. From 1807 to 1808, Fichte gave a series of orations called the “Addresses to the German Nation” after the reign of Napoleon to persuade the German people to unite, to rejoice in their common greatness. Another work of his, on the Closed Commercial State (1800), he wrote of the ideal state, incorporating trade with foreign nations, surpluses of food so the nation was well fed, a division of labor, and a social contract. Almost prophetically he wrote:

Until the existing culture of every age shall have been diffused over the whole inhabited globe, and our species becomes capable of the most unlimited inter-communication with itself,… then, without further interruption,… humanity shall move onward to a higher culture.[13]

So far as Fichte’s ethical theory is concerned, he placed great importance on the conscience as the force that allows us to carry out our individual duties. “Conscience is the immediate awareness of a particular obligation,”[14] he says. That little voice in our heads, that gut feeling, which tells us if something is right or wrong is our conscience. Fichte says we must adhere to this voice every time, since it has a moral sense. To be an ethical person, he says, “Act always according to your best convictions of your duty or Act according to your conscience.”[15] We individuals, when faced with a situation that endangers us naturally, as in hunger, and spiritually, as in duty, must always satisfy our spiritual above our natural needs, to the extent that our spiritual, moral obligations are of Unknown-12.jpegutmost importance. Freedom is equated with law–moral law, that is–in Fichte’s view. Jacobi, Fichte, and Schelling are surprisingly existential for their time, perhaps inspiring future existentialists such as Kierkegaard, who happened to attend several of Fichte’s lectures and was a student of Schelling, and Jean-Paul Sartre; the latter in particular seems to have been influenced by the following meditations on freedom from Fichte: “I am wholly my creation.”[16] This is an audacious quote, and he thus explains it: “My whole mode of thought, and the cultivation that my understanding receives, as well as the objects to which I direct it, depend entirely on myself.”[17] This quote is oft-cited when speaking of Fichte, occurring most often in the form of “My philosophy depends on what kind of Man I am.”[18] By this Fichte means we shape the world and we act according to who we are and what we choose to do–very Sartrean. One may think back to Fichte’s metaphysics and ask, Why is there a non-ego? Fichte explains: “From the necessity of action proceeds the consciousness of the actual world; and not the reverse way,”[19] and “my world is the object and sphere of my duties, and absolutely nothing more.”[20] In short, the ego requires activity and somewhere to act, so it posits the non-ego; and because the non-ego is nature, it means the ego has somewhere to act as a moral agent. Lastly, Fichte addresses the problem of other minds and how we ought to act toward others:

But the voice of my conscious thus speaks: “Whatever these beings may be in and for themselves, you shall act towards them as self-existent, free, substantive beings, wholly independent of you. Assume it as already known that they can give you a purpose to their own being wholly by themselves, and quite independently of you; never interrupt the accomplishment of this purpose but rather further it to the utmost of your power. Honor their freedom, lovingly take up their purposes as if they were your own.”[20]

 


[1] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 420
[2] Id., p. 424
[3] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 8, p. 313
[4] Adams, op. cit., p. 427
[5] Watson, Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, From Fire to Freud, p. 610
[6] Marías, History of Philosophy, p. 310
[7] Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism, p. 108
[8] Watson, op. cit., p. 610
[9] Beardsley, The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, p. 492
[10] Bax, Philosophy of Schopenhauer, p. 195
[11] Marías, op. cit., p. 312
[12] Beardsley, op. cit., pp. 495-6
[13] Id., pp. 508-9
[14] Fichte, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 173-4
[15] Id., p. 59
[16] Beardsley, op. cit., p. 497
[17] Ibid.
[18] Watson, op. cit., p. 611
[19] Beardsley, op. cit., p. 500
[20] Ibid.
[21] Id., p. 499

For further reading:
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)

The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche by Monroe Beardsley (1992)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 11 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
by Hazard Adams (1971)
Philosophy of Schopenhauer
by Belfort Bax (1949)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)

 

The German Romantic Philosophers (2 of 5)

As we have seen, Romanticism was a revolt against the rational, ordered view of the world, an outlook championed by the Enlightenment, particularly in France. The Germans responded vehemently with their own revolution, inspiring a surge in faith, in the visceral, the emotional. Intuition was favored above knowledge, perception above conception, passion above reason. Part two shall analyze the first two figures of German Romanticism, Jacobi and Herder, the former in favor of faith, the latter nationalism.

Unknown-2.jpegFriedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) was a controversial figure, partly because he wrote several polemics, many of which sought to challenge the status quo established by the Enlightenment, and partly because of his fiery personality, the cause of many a bitter friendship (like the pantheism controversy), despite befriending several vanguards of the time. Recognized primarily as a polemicist, Jacobi was an obstinate critic of the Enlightenment. He saw the apotheosis of reason as distasteful, as reason was, in his view, subordinate to faith, an opinion held by a fellow Romantic and, at one time, friend, Johann Georg Hamann. Science, obtained by observation, supposedly based on reason, had its foundations built upon empiricism, thus making it not objective, as it is so advertised. Jacobi detested science, not only because it aided the Enlightenment in forming a logical theory of the universe, but because it deified the objective, the so-called “true reality.” In all reality, all the scientists were doing was watching phenomena through their senses, then turning those observations into laws, laws that put boundaries on the world, limiting it, depriving it of its beauty, supplanting faith with reason. This, Jacobi thought, led to nihilism, a term actually first used by Jacobi himself. The Enlightenment was nihilistic in that it was fatalistic–it condemned humanity, the entire universe, to a predetermined course, all of its occurrences explainable by scientific laws, thereby reducing all values to science. Immanuel Kant was one of the biggest influences on the German philosophers, on modernity, and at one point, on Jacobi; yet this did not last long, for Jacobi later criticized Kant, dismissing his theory of things-in-themselves, imputing Kant with creating a system of subjective idealism. Faith, as I have said, was central to Jacobi, and the definition of faith, in German glaube, caused some problems for Jacobi when it was interpreted in different ways. Hence Jacobi identified faith with both its traditional definition and with belief, since he felt both were necessary. Intuition was an experienced truth supported with faith, according to Jacobi. If we drop an object, it will fall. But just seeing this truth in action is not enough; we must also have faith in this empirical observation, because without it, there still exists doubt, uncertainty. Further, faith and feeling are superior to reason simply for the fact that reason is formed after sensation, after feeling. First we see the object drop, then we formulate the notion that there is an effect which draws the object downward. In order for faith to work, Jacobi invites us all to take a salto mortale, a leap of faith, a concept mistakenly contributed to Unknown-4.jpegKierkegaard. Faith is almost like a blind trust, for we must put our whole certainty into something, regardless of whether we are certain or not. This leap, then, signifies our trust in the world. This is the first principle upon which philosophy is based for Jacobi. Critiquing Kant, Jacobi wrote that the thing-in-itself, existing in the transcendental noumenal realm, cannot be grasped by reason, precisely as Kant said. If that is so, how can Kant be sure the things-in-themselves exist? Jacobi says that we know they exist not through reason, but through faith. Faith in the phenomenal world means faith in the noumenal world, it follows. Jacobi can hardly be called an Existentialist, but he did place emphasis on the person, rather than speculative metaphysics. In an idea we will further investigate with Fichte, Jacobi said there is an I and a Thou, in other words a subject and an object. Only through the object can the subject be known, for the subject, by resisting something outside of itself, is revealed. With too much emphasis on theory in philosophy, Jacobi turned to action, stating that we are identifiable through action; we are what we do.


Unknown-3.jpegWhile arguably one of the most influential Romantics yet also one of the most unheard of, Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) has made a lasting contribution to civilization, not only as a philosopher, but as a historian, a debatable nationalist, a psychologist, and a linguistic theorist. Nationalism can be traced neither exactly nor accurately to Herder, but he definitely is responsible for a different type: Cultural nationalism. In his four-volume series Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1784-1791), Herder sets up the idea of a creative consciousness. This consciousness is a historical process, one that has shaped, shapes, and will shape society, its work seen throughout history. Creative consciousness is not exactly a forerunner of evolution, yet it is similar, inasmuch as it relates society to a species of some sort, constantly evolving, adapting, assimilating, progressing. As this consciousness progresses, cultures come and go, cultures being different groups of people sharing in common beliefs and practices. Every culture is unique from its contemporaries, exhibiting its own characteristics, the likes of which have never been seen before nor will be seen again. Cultures, therefore, are unique, and there exists no blueprint, no recognizable pattern, for them, as they cannot be predicted, so far as there is no objective framework on which they are to be based; cultures are blank slates, each able to have a special impress made on them. Herder believes in world peace. He thinks cultures should coexist without encroaching on one another. He thinks cultures should respect one another. Based on these beliefs, Herder did not like empires, nations that conquered other nations: by removing a culture and reorienting it, empires are removing an entire past, an entire history distinct to that culture alone; and that history can never be recovered, for it has already been disrespected. Moreover, it removes the identity of the culture itself, practically wiping it clean from the world. The discipline of historicism was also influenced by Herder. To understand a certain aspect of a culture, Herder said, you must understand the entire culture. For example, I took a similar approach when researching this topic: So that I could understand the environment in which the Romantics were operating, I had to study not just the philosophy of the period, but the history, the art, the literature, the music, and the people. Reserved for every culture is a specific goal, a main focus, what Herder calls the schwerpunkt of a culture. Identifying this central idea will help you envisage the context into which you are delving. And what is culture without people? The people, volk, constitute a collective spirit, a volksgeist, that is immanent in that culture. A culture is created by the nature of humans, their expression, and their environment. Regarding the first, humans are sociable; second, Herder praises art, seeing Unknown-5.jpegit as the expression of not just a person but of a people, where there is no objective beauty, allowing cultures to figuratively speak to one another; third, he sets up environmental studies, asserting that the development of a culture is dependent upon its environment. “We live in a world we ourselves create,”[1] and, “Nature has separated nations not only by woods and mountains, seas and deserts, rivers and climates but most particularly by languages, inclinations, and character…,”[2] he says. Also a psychologist, Herder can be called an eliminativist, a view I explain here. Simply put, Herder rejects all “folk psychology,” meaning he discredits any claims about sensations like “reason,” “will,” or “desire.” He also believes that Man is entirely physical, entirely discarding Cartesian dualism, stating that only the brain and the body make up the individual. The idea that the brain is compartmentalized, with individual sections hooked up to individual functions like eating, is also rejected. Herder thought it ridiculous, mystical even, that one part of the brain could do one thing and another something else. Predating Gestalt theory, he says, “The inner man, with all his dark forces, stimuli, and impulses, is simply one.”[3] The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in other words. Man is not identified with his desires, with his thinking, with his instincts, but with all of them; Man is not a single part but a collection. Within every man is an animating force, Kraft. Herder theorized this living force as fundamental to being, to existence; without it, there would be no life. Kraft is what allows us to function, to live, to interact with the real world, with objects outside of us, phenomena. Moving onto his linguistic theory, we find a revolutionary view, one that gave me an epiphany. Language developed and evolved alongside humans–that much is evident, and it was accepted. Each culture had a language that was different from its neighbors, for they progressed differently, and their language had to fit their specific needs. This led Herder to create a theory that inspired the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Because language was relative to each culture, it followed that language must accordingly affect how cultures experienced the world. Insofar as there is no such thing as a perfect translation, it must mean that words will have different connotations to different people; therefore, we all see the world differently based on our language. What made me really think was Herder relating the conscience to an “inward speaking.”[4] This, coupled with Wittgenstein’s picture theory of language, makes up the internal dialogue of the mind. We tend to think in pictures, and when we talk to ourselves in our heads, there is an inaudible voice, but a voice that we can altogether understand, as it uses language–it speaks.

 


[1] Smith, The Norton History of the Human Sciences, p. 337
[2] Meinecke, Cosmopolitanism and the National State, pp. 25-26
[3] Herder, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 8, p. 179
[4] Herder, Sämtlichte Werke, Vol. 21, p. 88

 

For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Jacobi
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

The Wisdom of Baltasar Gracián Pt. 2

Unknown-1Baltasar Gracián (1601-1658) was a writer during the Golden Age of Spain, a time characterized by a surge in literature, of which Gracián was a part. His books, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which I cover here, and The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, from which I will draw today, are collections of 300 aphorisms, each written with wit, grace, and precision, reflecting his period in history, yet at the same time providing guidance.

#6: The height of perfection. – No one is born complete; perfect yourself and your activities day by day until you become a truly consummate being, your talents and your qualities all perfected. This will be evident in the excellence of your taste, the refinement of your intellect, the maturity of your judgement, the purity of your will. Some never manage to be complete; something is always missing. Others take a long time. The consummate man, wise in word and sensible in deed, is admitted into, and sought out for, the singular company of the discreet.

#32: Be known for pleasing people. –  To please is greatly to the credit of rulers, a quality that enables sovereigns to gain universal favor. The one advantage of ruling is precisely this, to be able to do more good than others. True friends are those who do favors. In contrast, others are set on pleasing no one, not so much because it’s tiresome as out of malignancy, being entirely opposed to such divine dealings.

#195: Know how to appreciate. – There’s no one who can’t be better than someone at something, and none who excel that can’t be excelled. Knowing how to enjoy the best in everyone is a useful form of knowledge. The wise appreciate everyone, recognizing the good in all and knowing how much it costs to do things well. Fools despise everyone because they are ignorant of the good and choose the worst.

#274: Have appeal. – It casts a polite and politic spell. Let such gallant allure be used more to win goodwill than personal advantage–or use it for everything. Merit alone is not enough without charm, which is what leads to approval, sovereignty’s most useful instrument. To win someone over is a matter of luck, though artifice can help this along, for artifice works best where natural gifts are already found. This gives rise to affection, and eventually to universal favor.

 


For further reading: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence by Baltasar Gracián (2011)