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Cover Boy Kant • Faith and Logic • Colin Wilson • Contradictions • Myths and Meanings • Beware of the Triads! • Not Natural? • Consciousness Goes Pop • Trypogaphical Error
Cover Boy Kant
DEAR EDITOR: Gossip magazines know that a cover picture of the late Diana Princess of Wales lifts their newsstand sales by a predictable percentage. I wonder if the philosophy press experiences a similar phenomenon? I cheerfully admit to buying your Jan/Feb edition because it had Kant on the front.
Enjoyed the contents, by the way.
Faith and Logic
DEAR EDITOR: Steve Stewart-Williams (Issue 47) makes a large assumption before he begins producing his logical discourse on the incompatibility of god and evolution. This assumption is that we should use logic to guide our lives. While there are many people in the world who view logical processes in a positive light, there are also many who are happy to shrug their shoulders at the use of logical arguments. Who can say which approach is better? Steve’s arguments ring true for those who value logic in their lives, but for those who don’t, it will not touch their values. For those who have faith, they can believe in God, evolution and Santa Claus. No amount of logical deduction will touch their beliefs. Because of this, the only people Steve’s article will leave an imprint on, are those who falsely believe they have both logic and god in their lives.
DEAR EDITOR: I was amused to read Colin Wilson’s self-appraisal, in the recent interview (Issue 49), as being “a turning point in modern culture.” He sees himself reaching the heights that eluded many others: Marx – a theorist of ‘rubbish’, Sartre – a man “who never succeeded in creating a real philosophy”, and the “idiot Irishman” Beckett. Wilson never mentions Albert Camus – perhaps because he just happened to write books with titles very reminiscent of his own. (This is known as anticipatory plagiarism!) Most of the above chaps have been (erroneously!) awarded Nobel Prize, but all this is going to change once the Nobel Committee come to their senses and see who is the real genius of our times.
Before Mr Wilson sits down to write his acceptance (or rejection?) speech I suggest he has another look at Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where in Book 1 entitled Of the Three Metamorphoses Nietzsche clearly states: “I name you three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall become a camel, and a camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.” This seems to be a rather different order of things to the one quoted by Wilson in the interview. Well, just too bad for Nietzsche!
DR EVA M. CYBULSKA
DEAR EDITOR: What came to mind as I read Trudy Govier’s article ‘Philosophy, Life and Philosophies of Life’ (Issue 49) is that life and the world are replete with contradictions. As someone once said, If you do away with contradiction you do away with reality, like those of up/down, in/out, and day/night. Similarly, if you do away with contradiction you do away with people, and thinking.
We as individuals and society are made of contradictions and comparisons. Contradiction animates people and ideas, like two contradictory, binary poles make and animate electricity. In essence contradiction is the ultimate DNA. Some of humankind’s best and enduring ideas have come via contradictory, enigmatic thinkers like Marx, Rousseau and Jefferson. However, as Govier reveals in her article, in reference to Wollstoncraft and similar transformers, it’s not the contradiction per se that forms and rules our lives but the synthesis of it that does. Where have we heard that before? Sounds Hegelian and dialectical to me.
Myths and Meanings
DEAR EDITOR: I cannot agree more with Richard Taylor, wherever he is now, regarding the nature of myths (see Issue 47). Like fairy tales and certain parables they probably contain different levels of meaning and interpretation, a spectrum of significance, depending upon the receptivity of the receiver,
They are designed, I feel, to transmit an inner message – to enable the mind to resonate with a deeper reality, to help it to escape from the confines of ordinary consciousness. Thus the story of Ariadne’s Thread is indeed that very thread – for those with eyes to see it or as Jesus says ‘ears to hear’.
As A.K. Coomaraswamy said: “The content of myth is metaphysics. Our inability to see this is due primarily to our abysmal ignorance of metaphysics and its technical terms.”
Which closely parallels what Idries Shah says about what he terms ‘the teaching story’: “First of all we must allow the working hypothesis that there may be such a level operative in certain stories. We must approach them from the point of view that they may be documents of technical value: an ancient yet irreplaceable method of arranging and transmitting a knowledge which can not be put in any other way.” There may be something in this, you know!
Beware of the Triads!
DEAR EDITOR: In ‘The Psychology & Psychopathology of Philosophers’ (Issue 48), Ralph Blumenau argues that the widespread desire to classify things into three categories is an ‘abnormal’ concern. But the article itself contains a ‘triadism’; so does the writer consider himself abnormal? He writes: “I would divide the concerns of philosophers into three groups: normal ‘intellectual’ concerns … normal ‘religious’ concerns … ‘abnormal’ concerns” (p. 36). I agree with the writer that ‘fear of uncertainty’ is a widespread problem; however, I do not think it is fair to say that it is abnormal for writers to arrange things into ‘neat patterns of three’ as we find in not only Kant and Hegel but also in the writer of the article himself and many others.
Recently I did a wide survey of philosophical, religious and popular literature and found that significant triads are far too numerous to be dismissed as merely the imposition of ‘artificial neatness.’ Since Plato’s tripartite division of the soul, dividing things into three parts has been a time-proven tradition that has served us well. The human mind appears to have a special affinity for the number three because of that number’s tri-mendous economy and effectiveness in the art of persuasion. To persuade someone of something try giving three reasons or three examples. Triads work well on human understanding and memory. Far from being abnormal, there is nothing more natural for beings living on the third planet from the sun to divide things into threes. Might not this special natural tendency of the mind be the reason why Aristotle wrote that a story has a beginning, middle and an end? And perhaps it is also why nearly all of us can remember the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’, and how many wishes the Genie granted to Aladdin.
DEAR EDITOR: I was wondering if anyone has ever noticed the surprising resemblance between the late French theorist Michel Foucault and Cousin Fester from the Addams Family. Could they by some chance be related?
DEAR EDITOR: Regarding the article ‘Gay Rights: Choice vs. Nature?’ by Michael Voytinsky, in Issue 48. Despite several scientific studies the cause of sexual attraction between members of the same sex is unknown. The American Psychiatric Association has, in fact, held varying positions on the subject.
Nonetheless, were it to be proven that some individuals have a genetic determination to homosexuality, in itself this evidence would not invalidate the long tradition among all major religions in the world that homosexuality, according to the ‘natural law’, is an unnatural or disordered condition.
‘Natural’ does not, as some think, refer here simply to what is in accord with biological processes of man. Nor does it refer to what is innate, nor even to what is ‘normal’. Rather, the word ‘natural’ has a metaphysical meaning. That is said to be ‘natural’ which accords with what is good for human beings. Homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law because they close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.
All human beings are, in fact, in an unnatural and disordered condition. It is common to the human condition, for instance, for human beings to want to eat, drink, and sleep more than is good for them. It is common to the human condition for humans to want to have sexual intercourse with those with whom they should not or when they should not or in ways that they should not. In this context, homosexuality is simply one more of the many ‘unnatural’ or ‘disordered’ conditions to which humans are susceptible.
Legal recognition of same-sex unions would act to obscure basic moral values causing a further deterioration of the family. In fact recent statistics show there is a much higher rate of disintegration within same-sex unions than in heterosexual marriages. Michael Voytinsky, therefore, is incorrect in arguing that homosexual unions are not harmful to society.
In rejecting erroneous opinions that support homosexuality one does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.
Consciousness Goes Pop
DEAR EDITOR: Let me mixed-metaphorically respond to your overview of consciousness. Consciousness is a toy, and serves no useful purpose. Peter Singer, in discussing the difference between persons and animals, says that consciousness is having an idea of ourselves. We get this idea when we are babies, howling for food. Someone has to feed us, so we devise different howls and sorrowful looks to get it. Our providers react to us, and so start this idea of ourselves. We also start to get an idea of the future: if they turn their backs I can snatch another peppermint. When grandpa dies in the home, we’re secretly glad that the boring visits are over. But by this time, our consciousness has become so large that the idea that we will be dead, that this giant blister of ideas, plans and thoughts will become dry, makes us start to howl again. Peter Zapffe thought that only the insane are sane, for the thought that the pink sugar on our birthday cakes turns into something horrible, and the knowledge that we have to suffer and die, makes the whole exercise of life pointless. But, getting back to the idea of grandpa, someone, thinking that grief for the departed is the reason for our racket, will comfort us. But we know different. It’s ourselves we’re worrying about. In time, we too will be in the home. The blister of our consciousness will drain, and we will become one with our bodies. We will go cursing or smiling and, at the last moment, feel the power of the body as it grinds to a halt. We will have been clever and used our minds, as our elders had hoped, or else been a useless layabout, no good to anybody, as most often predicted. Then, there is luck. But consciousness, this extra that let us play, will be gone. Our instinct for survival, which got us food all our lives, will have been turned off and our worn-out carcass will be ready to be disposed of. Then it will be up to our descendants to use the idea of our consciousness in any way they wish
DEAR EDITOR: As an Australian I’m well aware that there are people in the world who do not know the difference between Austria and Australia, but I presume it was just a typographical oversight that led to the statement (Issue 48, October/November 2004, p.17) that John Passmore moved to the Austrian (rather than the Australian) National University where he retired twenty years later as a professor emeritus. In other respects, it was very nice to see Professor Passmore honoured by the article.