We are in this together.

“Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude.”

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan, revised edition, edited by AP Martinich and Brian Battiste.” London/Peterborough: Broadview Editions (2011). Part I, Ch. XIII, 13., p. 125.

*Note: By “passions” is NOT meant “emotions,” but rather impulses to action, namely desire (approaching or going toward) and aversion (retreating or drawing away from). Think of the snail in the previous post, feeling its way along, sensing, perhaps moving toward moisture and food. When the snail is disturbed, it retreats into its shell. Then slowly, one tentative stalk protrudes to see if the coast is clear.

 

We are sensing things.

“All men by nature desire to know.  An indication we have for this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness, they are desired for themselves….”

Aristotle. Trans. W.D. Ross. Metaphysics. Book I. Part I.

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We are sensing things. 

Hobbes’ Humility Check

Lately, I’ve been troubled by laughing-at-stupid-people infotainment, especially in partisan news media. On both sides of the spectrum. I’d like to watch a broadcast that doesn’t devolve into some version of nanny-nanny-poo-poo-you-have-stinky-pants. And that the anchor wears a suit and tie, frowns, and speaks solemnly makes the content no less snidely.

But from my armchair, where I finger wag at others with impunity, I’ve been reflecting on my own habits of mind. This self-reflection reminds me of one my favourite passages from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, and that a little well-placed self-deprecation is unlikely to go amiss.  For myself as much as for anyone.

“And as to the faculties of mind, … I find yet a greater equality amongst men, than that of strength…That which may perhaps make such equality incredible, is but a vain conceit of one’s own wisdom, which almost all men think they have in a greater degree, than the vulgar; that is, than all men but themselves, and few others, whom by fame, or for concurring with themselves, they approve. For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be so many as wise as themselves; for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan. Part 1, Chapter 13, (2.).

Intellectual Curmudgeonry, Plato’s Legacy

Try this. When you step out of bed in the morning, open the curtains, take a big breath, and exclaim: What a wonderful day! I can’t believe how rational people are!

It’s because somebody, say Plato, opened the curtains one morning, looked out at the world and said Oh… My… Gawd!What is wrong with people?!  Can’t they think straight!?  that Western Analytic philosophy, was born. Of course I’m taking (humorous) liberties here. The point I make is that philosophy began by making observations about the world and thinking critically about them. Thinking itself, and how it corresponds with our observations in the world, also became an object of analysis. Why? Because it seems to be that somewhere in our black boxes we come to know something about the world, whatever that might mean. And it seems to be that whatever is going on in our black boxes has some causal relationship to our actions. So, notwithstanding you’ll hear almost as many definitions of philosophy as there are philosophers, (Western Analytic) philosophy is, in practice, a critical analysis of the core concepts by which we navigate the world. And there is good reason for this critical analysis because whatever goes on in our black boxes seems to play some role in our propensity to burn witches, waterboard prisoners of war, and build weapons of mass destruction. You know, that old saw about the sorts of things humans get up to when we’re left to play without supervision by an adult (note the use of *rationality-talk).

Plato conceived of philosophers as watch-dogs, or guardians of the herd, i.e. the people in his ideal state. That is, Plato envisioned philosopher-kings who would serve both as leaders and benevolent protectors of his Republic. I think it’s fair to say that this sentiment perdures in modern philosophy. In her capacity as an analyst, the philosopher offers her critical arguments to others, Hey, I’ve thought a lot about this, and here are some reasons why you might not want to burn that woman (me?!) at the stake. Hence, we presuppose others are reasonable; i.e. that others can be reasoned with. Otherwise, there’s no sense in our trying to appeal to another’s reason with an argument. But here’s the clincher. I doubt a one of us stands in the window, as I suggested, and wonders at how rational people are. Which means we also presuppose others aren’t reasonable; i.e. that people can’t be reasoned with. Well, some others, we grumble, and proceed to name them. We may even grudgingly admit that all humans are unreasonable about somethings at sometimes. Okay, well, yes, and sometimes even us. Just not near as often nor as extreme as the hoi polloi.

If we believed people were completely reasonable, or completely unreasonable, we’d not have much reason for philosophy. In the former case there’s be no need, in the latter, no hope. Our discipline rests on this tension, and it’s what makes doing philosophy so interesting. Humans are admixtures of internal and external processes, one of them being the want to make sense of ourselves and others. Since we share living together, this is a pretty fundamental want. For philosophers as much as anyone else. The problem is, when we’re Plato in the window, raising our fists like intellectual curmudgeons, we tend not to see our own reflections in the glass.

 

*I’ll explain what I mean by rationality-talk in another entry.

**This entry consists of an excerpt from my original work. Please cite accordingly. Thank you.

 

A lullaby

 

 

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Sleep my baby, at my breast,
‘Tis a mother’s arms round you.
Make yourself a snug, warm nest.
Feel my love forever new.
Harm will not meet you in sleep,
Hurt will always pass you by.
Child beloved, always you’ll keep,
In sleep gentle, mother’s breast nigh.
Sleep in peace tonight, sleep,
O sleep gently, what a sight.

 

*Suo Gan, a traditional Welsh lullaby. Lyrics by Robert Bryan. I copied the lyrics from the following source: Click here for a recording of Anthony Way and St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir singing Suo Gan. Published on You Tube by Somewheremaybe, Nov 13, 2015, with lyrics and photo compilation.

Photo, mine.