Earthpages.ca

Think Free


1 Comment

Panentheism – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, Lithography p...

Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, Lithography published in: Die reine d.i. allgemeine Lebenlehre und Philosophie der Geschichte, Göttingen 1843 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Panentheism is a religious studies term coined in 1828 by the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832).

Today, it belongs within the umbrella term, pantheism. However, Krause’s concept is more specific.

Panentheism refers to the belief in an eternal God grounded in but also greater than creation. Put simply, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Krause is an interesting character. Largely overlooked by Western philosophy, his predominantly mystical thought was overshadowed by Schelling,¹ Fichte, and Kant, who were his professors. He was also passed over by academe, like a lot of bright people with a bit too much insight and individuality.²

His view of society reminds me of Émile Durkheim’s but with an added mystical flair. For Krause, the universe is an organic whole. And the more that individuals and groups fall into line with that whole, the better society functions.

Krause endeavoured to reconcile the ideas of a God known by faith or conscience and the world as known to sense. God, intuitively known by conscience, is not a personality (which implies limitations), but an all-inclusive essence (Wesen), which contains the universe within itself. This system he called panentheism, a combination of monotheism and pantheism.

Ideal society results from the widening of the organic operation of this principle from the individual man to small groups of men, and finally to mankind as a whole.³

Schelling

Schelling 1775 – 1854 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Variations of this view are found in Taoism and Hinduism, as well as the works of Spinoza and Hegel. But we should be wary of oversimplifying. Important differences are sometimes glossed over by educators, religious authors and New Age enthusiasts.

That may sell sugar coated self-help books and fool gullible students. But it’s far from the truth.4

¹ Schelling is considered by some to have coined the term unconscious and his saying, “Nature is visible Spirit; Spirit is invisible Nature” would make a perfect inspirational quote for social media.

² I’m coming to think that, with a few notable exceptions, the brightest people in the humanities do something better than teach at a university. The more dull-witted stay behind, churning out their conventional, politically correct or trendy tracts mostly designed to get funding and ensure financial security. Nothing wrong with that. But nothing spectacular either.

³ https://www.diigo.com/user/earthpages This is a link to highlighting (notes) I made. I thought it would be a good idea to link to this so additional info that didn’t make this article could be seen. My Diigo page also has the original source.

4 Unless one adheres to the ‘truth’ of selling no matter what b.s. you’re spinning.

Related » Panenhenism, Pantheism, Polytheism

 Sociology’s Stagnation (3quarksdaily.com)


Leave a comment

Panenhenism – A WW-II spy comes up big in religious studies

Image via Abe Books

Panenhenism is a religious studies term coined by the WW-II British undercover agent cum Oxford scholar R. C. Zaehner (1913-1974).¹

A minor point for many, perhaps, but panenhenism differs from the more popular pantheism.

Panenhenism refers to the belief that the universe is a unified whole, but without any reference to God.

Zaehner’s term prefigures the semiotic and postmodern agenda to deconstruct words like “God” and what they connote for different individuals and groups—e.g. women, invisible, visible, silent and outspoken minorities.

Zaehner, himself, became a practicing Catholic and emphasized a distinction between what he called monist and theistic perspectives on mysticism.

The monist, he claims, adheres mostly to Asian religions (with some exceptions), where the self is identified with the godhead. The theist, on the other hand, believes that the self is forever individual and has some kind of relationship with God.

To illustrate the latter perspective Zaehner begins his book, Mysticism: Sacred and Profane (1961), by referring to the Jewish writer, Martin Buber. Buber makes a similar distinction with his famous “I – Thou” thesis.

Image via Abe Books

Zaehner was pretty popular when I was in India during the 1980s. By stating his own personal biases at the outset of his study, he is miles ahead of other scholars who conceal their religious convictions while trying to appear ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’ when dealing with world religions.

Later, while doing my doctorate in Ottawa, Canada during the 1990s, the notion of stating one’s biases at the outset of a study was a talking point at colloquia.²

¹ Quite an interesting read at Wikipedia » British_intelligence

² Basically, an informal exchange of ideas among those who cared to attend. Not all professors did. Some seemed to prefer volunteering for basic mail sorting chores in the mail room.

Related » Connotation, Denotation, Panentheism, Pantheism, Polytheism


Leave a comment

Willard Quine – My unapologetic simplification

Willard Quine (1908-2000) was an influential American mathematician and philosopher who rejected Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction¹ and advocated a form of holism.

English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo: Wikipedia)

Quine argues that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts.

The second dogma is reductionism—that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.

Quine’s thought has been variously championed and critiqued. It seems that whatever way we look at the issues Quine addresses, we encounter the same problem. Language (and arguably all symbols, to include numbers) has conceptual and descriptive limits. It can never be entirely precise nor complete.²

The relationship between symbols and reality is an age old debate with no definitive answer. The discussion can go along ‘horizontal,’ conceptual lines or veer off into deeper, ‘vertical’ lines (as with Carl Jung‘s view of the archetypal image).

The discussion can also exist in a kind of matrix. That is, one could argue – as I do – that all words carry a potential numinous power. Numinosity isn’t something restricted to religious or mythological symbols.

In sociology, Quine’s thought appears in discussions about reification and also about the relation between scientific truth claims on the one hand, and ideology, the profit motive and social power on the other hand.

Healthcare Costs by Images Money via Flickr

Admittedly this is the briefest of brief sketches about Quine. When it comes to Western philosophy, it seems everyone has their own take on what these complicated thinkers are trying to say.³ My interest in Quine is mostly in trying to get people to think critically about scientific truth claims.

Science is becoming a new kind or medieval-style religion. The initial assumptions, selectivity, biases, interpretations and extrapolations built in to science are so glossed over or taken for granted that the average person tends to see science as “truth” and doesn’t even want to discuss any further.

In other words, science has a pretty firm grip on the minds and actions of many people. Too see this in action, we don’t have to look any further than some of the facile placards in the recent “March for Science.”

Making a religion out of science is misguided, authoritarian and dangerous. I think humanity can do better. So that’s how I justify simplifying Quine. I’m taking a poststructural approach. Something that I think everyone does. Although not everyone might be aware of it (or admit it, if they are).

Image by Becker1999 via Flickr

Need I say more?

¹ Kant devised a distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are said to contain the predicate in the subject. Synthetic propositions do not contain the predicate in the subject. An example of an analytic proposition is, “All squares have four sides.” An example of a synthetic proposition is, “All men are athletic.”

² Along these lines the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, once wrote said that we cannot step into the same river twice. So what is a “river?”

³ Not to imply that Eastern philosophy is necessarily simpler or less open to interpretation. Just look at some of the Buddhist logic schools, for instance.

Related » Science, scientism


Leave a comment

The Quakers, past and present

Pete Birkenshaw via Flickr

The Quakers (a.k.a. The Religious Society of Friends) are a religious movement founded in England by George Fox (1624-1691). Wikipedia outlines the interesting origins of the appellation, Quakers.

In 1650, Fox was brought before the magistrates Gervase Bennet and Nathaniel Barton, on a charge of religious blasphemy. According to George Fox’s autobiography, Bennet “was the first that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord”. It is thought that George Fox was referring to Isaiah 66:2 or Ezra 9:4. Thus, the name Quaker began as a way of ridiculing George Fox’s admonition, but became widely accepted and is used by some Quakers

The Quakers were pacifists who rejected the Christian Sacraments, seeing themselves as  true Christians, Saints, Children of the Light, and Friends of the Truth.² They advocated plain speech and clothing, and were persecuted for their nonconformity. Four Quakers, including Mary Dyer, were executed in Boston in 1660.

In the 20th century Quakers made a name for themselves in the world of business, with names like Cadbury and Rowntree leading the pack. BBC points out that not all Quaker businesses succeeded. But we remember the success stories.³

English: The Religious Society of Friends (Qua...

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Mosedale Meeting House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, pockets of Quakers exist around the globe, often in economically disadvantaged locales where they engage in charitable works.

Quakers emphasize an Inner Light and personal revelation. Liberal Quaker “Friends” recognize different manifestations of what they understand as “The Holy Spirit.” This means that non-Christian religions are seen as valid approaches to God.

The Catholic Church has generally regarded the Quakers as a well-meaning but misguided sect.4

Title page from a book protesting the persecut...

Title page from a book protesting the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661) (Photo Wikipedia)

My only direct experience with a Quaker came through a university professor. While most other professors had PhDs, he was still working on his.

Despite this apparent drawback, he was by far one of my best undergrad professors. Intelligent, witty, kind and encouraging. He brought historical and biographical depth to what otherwise could have been a pretty dry topic—sociological theory.

So if he is any indication of what the rest are like, Quakers have made a pretty good impression on me.

George Fox. This image shows part of an engrav...

George Fox. This image shows part of an engraving by “S. Allen” (published 1838) of a painting by “S. Chinn” – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

² Ibid.

³ http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-17112572

4 For instance » http://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=9765

 Quaker Breakfast Squares Just $0.50 at Acme! {Rebate} (livingrichwithcoupons.com)

 Why Not Live With Friends? (feedproxy.google.com)


2 Comments

Plato – One of the most esteemed thinkers of all time

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) via Wikipedia

Plato (427-347 BCE) was a Greek philosopher born into an aristocratic Athenian family. Over the centuries he has come to be regarded as one of the most influential philosophers of all time, especially within Western philosophy.

Plato’s quick wit and eagerness to learn was evident at an early age. He most likely was instructed on a wide variety of topics, to include grammar, music, natural science, geography and gymnastics. And as an aristocrat, Plato would have been taught by the most respected teachers of the day. According to the Roman writer, Apuleus:

Speusippus praised Plato’s quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the “first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study.” ¹

All this bore fruit. Few philosophers are seen as his equal, with the exception of, perhaps, Immanuel Kant, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Plato’s contemporary Aristotle, whom Plato taught.²

Plato has an interesting take on knowledge. Essentially, he believes in reincarnation. Plato suggests that all knowledge rests in the soul before birth. The trauma of being born makes us forget what we knew. So learning is just “remembering” what we once knew on a higher, transcendental plane.

Freud via Wikipedia

Some might liken Plato’s view of knowledge to Freud‘s idea of the unconscious, but I don’t think Freud, the materialist atheist, would have agreed. More correctly, Plato’s theory of knowledge leads to the notion of the Forms.

For Plato, the Forms are perfect, unchanging and eternal. They are the true reality that everything else on Earth approximates. Not unlike Buddhism, everything in our changing world is viewed as secondary and impermanent.

But any similarities with Buddhism end there. For Plato, gaining knowledge of the eternal Forms means we become aware of the soul’s eternal nature. So for Plato, the philosophical life is a “preparation for death,” a death where we continue onward as individual souls.

Buddhists, on the other hand, try to eradicate individuality. For them, individuality, even an individual soul, is illusory. And to believe in any kind of individuality – be it the ego or the soul – hampers one’s spiritual development (which for Buddhists is a kind of unpacking and disposal of psychological contents).

Plato’s most influential teacher of philosophy is Socrates. Socrates never writes anything but roams the streets philosophizing with just about anyone who will listen. At Athens, Soctrates is eventually sentenced to death on charges of “atheism” and “corrupting the youth.”

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos via Wikipedia

Socrates’ supporters probably had an escape plan for him. And many would have turned a blind eye had he fled in the night. This kind of thing was almost half expected with exceptional cases in ancient Athens.

But Socrates chooses to drink poisonous hemlock rather than flee and, in his eyes, live dishonorably. From this, some contemporary thinkers say that Socrates’ death is a kind of suicide.³

So impressed by Socrates, Plato makes him the protagonist in most of his philosophical works, which are written as dialogues. In Plato’s dialogues, the character Socrates debates with others about many of the big questions.

Plato sometimes is regarded as hostile to poetry, while his student Aristotle is seen as sympathetic to the poetic imagination. But this isn’t entirely right. Plato admires divinely inspired poetry, in contrast to poems crafted by mere technique.

Aristotle writes prose commentaries on the importance of the artistic process, along with rules for creative artists. Plato, perhaps believing he is eternally justified in doing so, writes not prosaically but with a poetic flourish.

Plato condemns or severely restricts the use of poetry in education, yet he uses poetry extensively in his own works, citing verses with approval, imitating poetic style and imagery, or subjecting poems to critical study.4

Plato’s distinction between inspired verse and poetry based on technique seems a bit clunky. Aristotle begins to collapse the distinction by arguing that well crafted poetry can be cathartic. In other words, Aristotle recognizes that good poetry taps into something deeper than the world of the senses.

Saint Monica (331 – 387), also known as Monica of Hippo, was an early Christian saint and the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Colored engraving from Diodore Rahoult, Italy 1886.

After the Christian church takes hold of the European imagination, St. Augustine of Hippo recasts aspects of Plato’s work to support Christian belief. St. Augustine’s tremendous influence on Christian theology isn’t really challenged until medieval theologians obtain translations of Aristotle made by Muslim scholars.

Today, Plato’s influence has fallen out of favor in the Catholic Church and the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, who borrows from and respectfully calls Aristotle “The Philosopher,” is taught in various theological contexts.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato

² No brief summary can account for all of Plato’s beliefs and ideas. Some that have captured my imagination are mentioned here.

³ See G. S. Aldrete http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/history-of-the-ancient-world-a-global-perspective.html

4 Paul Woodruff, “Plato’s Use of Poetry” in Oxford Art Online (Plato)


Leave a comment

Gilbert Ryle – An Oxford man who advocated “ordinary language”

Gilbert Ryle (1900-76) was an English philosopher who taught at Oxford from 1945-68. He edited the journal Mind from 1947-71.

Ryle and others like G. E. Moore developed the idea, forwarded by Wittgenstein, that philosophy is best expressed in so-called “ordinary language.” For Ryle, using abstract language is so removed from everyday experience and speech that it tends to be, for the most part, inaccurate and irrelevant.

Some philosophers are so heavily invested in their specialized language that they become blind to the ambiguities, limitations and sometimes absurdity of their claims.

A similar argument could be made about anyone who overly invests in a particular language game or symbol system, to include psychologists, biologists, physicists, economists, lawyers, environmentalists… The list goes on.

Not everyone agrees with Ryle. For a while, his views were trendy in philosophy but that didn’t last long. Today, philosophy is even more esoteric and symbolic than ever. Most modern philosophy degrees demand advanced courses in symbolic logic that, to the uninitiated, might look more like math than critical thinking.

Drawing from René Descartes' (1596-1650) in &q...

Drawing from René Descartes’ (1596-1650) in “meditations métaphysiques” explaining the function of the pineal gland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some of the main points for and against the use of ordinary language in philosophy and related disciplines:

For:

  • Language is dynamic, full of ambiguous connotation and a product of culture. Meanings are always open to interpretation.
  • Specialized language cloaks bias and subtly reinforces unequal relations of power. For instance, in psychology a person is “ADD” or “Autistic.” The scientific label makes it so. End of discussion. Who cares if these people have unusual abilities that the status quo is too biased to recognize or support?
  • Ordinary language isn’t patronizing to ordinary people and may, in fact, draw them into a discussion. This could lead to new insights and benefits for all.

Against:

  • Given the potential ambiguity and fluidity of language, shouldn’t philosophers try to define their terms as precisely as possible?
  • Isn’t it valid for specialists to use specialized language? For example, do you really want your operating room surgeon to say “give me that blade over there” one day and “hand me the knife” another day instead of always using the quick and precise, “scalpel“?
  • Specialized language increases precision and facilitates greater communication, efficiency and effectiveness among specialists. Popular writers can always translate the main points to the public, later on.

It seems each of these arguments has its pros and cons.

For some, the best approach – ironically an age-old advertising and entertaining technique – is to tailor one’s expression to fit the perceived audience. Instead of speaking above people, some believe it’s better to try to connect—unless, of course, you’re in a specialized group using shared terms (e.g. A Trekkie convention).

Some hard core philosophers seem to overlook the many nuances of human interaction. So they can come off dry, abstract or irrelevant. But every now and then specialized thinkers do come up with ideas worth considering. For me, one example is Hume’s critique of causality. I love and sometimes mention that idea if I feel my audience is ready to consider its transformational potential.

But to return to Ryle, he also published a popular work in 1949, The Concept of Mind, that questioned Descartes mind/body dualism. Ryle says Descartes describes the mind as a metaphysical ghost in a material machine. And from that we have the enduring phrase, “ghost in the machine,” an idea now morphing into new meanings with the rise of AI.


Leave a comment

Bertrand Russell – Temporarily lost his job for advocating peace

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Russell (Photo Wikipedia)

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a Welsh philosopher, mathematician and activist.

Russell taught at Cambridge in 1895, published Principles of Mathematics (1903) and, with A. N. Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13).

He was let go from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1916 for advocating pacifism during World War I. This was scandalous even at the time because most of his Fellows opposed his firing.¹ Jailed in 1918 for six months, Russell eventually revoked his support for pacifism with the rise of Fascism.

Soon after his Fellowship was restored.

In the 1920’s he lectured and wrote widely. In 1927 he founded an experimental school with his second wife, Dora, a woman of achievement in her own right. And he toured the Soviet Union and lectured in China and America.

Russell’s best known publications are The Problems of Philosophy (1912), On Education (1926), An Enquiry into Meaning and Truth (1940), History of Western Philosophy (1945), and Human Knowledge (1948). He also wrote probing essays on a variety of topics, such as Why I am not a Christian (1927).

After World War II Russell advocated a ban on nuclear weapons and corresponded with leading politicians around the world. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and authored a three-volume Autobiography (1967-9).

English: Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behi...

Bertrand Russell and Conway Hall Behind bust of Bertrand Russell (by Marcelle Quinton 1980) in Red Lion Square the entrance to Conway Hall can be seen with Royal Mail van parked outside. (Photo: Wikipedia)

¹ Perhaps it’s fitting that I’m posting this revision on Good Friday. Seems a lot of people run into bad luck for advocating peace. †

Related » Ludwig Wittgenstein