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Thursday, 22 March 2018 at 21:18

Heidegger on Dr John Dunn. So blinkered down a path of worldly achievement is modern man that it is not until the very point of death that all the distractions, ambitions, aspirations and flight to the crowd cease to have their analgesic effect and he wakes to the truth of being. Martin Heidegger (left) wrote of this very moment in his History and the Concept of Time, the dread of death - the point of death when the individual is exposed as what he really is. Heidegger wrote, ‘there is thus the possibility, in the very moment of departing from the world, so to speak, when the world has nothing more to say to us and every other has nothing more to say, that the world and our being-in-it show themselves purely and simply.’ The flight of the individual from himself has to end. At the point of death he has no choice but to confront himself. The individual sees himself in all his nakedness. In this we are reminded of the words from Job 1:21, ‘Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ At the point of death, flight is no longer an option. The difference between modern and traditional man is that the latter never thought it was in the first place.

© John Dunn.

The differences

Wednesday, 21 March 2018 at 20:10

Plethon on Dr John Dunn. The differences

The Council of Florence 1438–1439 famously set the stage for the mighty George Gemistos Plethon (left).

Plethon's fame had preceded him when he arrived in Florence as a member of the Byzantine delegation. He was invited by Council attendees to lecture on the differences between Plato and Aristotle. Cosimo d'Medici was in the audience and was so enthused by Plethon’s radical platonism that he founded the Accademia Platonica in Florence, under the directorship of Marsilio Ficino.

With Plethon’s oratory, what had been a covert preservation of Hellenistic thought in the West emerged into open opposition to the Jehovian Terror.Plethon summarised the substance of his lectures in On the Differences of Aristotle from Plato, better known by its shortened Latin title as De Differentiis. Often thought of merely as the first shot in an academic battle that continued in Byzantium with George Scholarios's Defence of Aristotle and Plethon's subsequent Reply, this work sparked the Renaissance uprising against the Guelph nobility,Jewish merchants, money lenders and Venetian financiers who had benefitted for so long from the preservation of the Diocletian Order, Jehovian Terror and the suppression of Hellenistic thought.

© John Dunn.

Two-tiered parables

Thursday, 1 March 2018 at 20:38

Mark on Dr John Dunn. In Jesus’ parables understanding was founded upon an aspect of the story that remained undecipherable without the key being given. The key was only to be made known to the inner circle, as Jesus himself made clear. When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’. (Mark 4) For each of the components of a parable there was an analogy. The key to drawing the parallel was given. Without it the analogy remained unknown and the parable could not function in the way that it did for the disciples. Thelatter were given ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, the rest were fed parables only.

The existence of a ‘secret’ Gospel of Mark suggests that, just as the parables must be understood to grasp ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’, then the life of Jesus must also be ‘understood’ to grasp a meaning beyond the mere level of a story. The series of events in his life were themselves the objects of reflection, hence the exasperation of Jesus at the disciples’ failure to understand, which followed his warning about the leaven of the Pharisees:

Do you still not see or understand? 

Are your hearts hardened? 

Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? 

And don’t you remember? 

Do you still not understand? (Mark 8)

Why the exasperation? Because the disciples were behaving like ‘those on the outside’. Because only ‘understanding’, be it of parables or the sequence of events in Jesus’ life, would open ‘the secret of the Kingdom of God’. 

Finally, the two-tiered rendering of parables and the sequence of events in Jesus’ life strongly suggests too that the Kingdom of God had a meaning beyond the superficialities of place, access and membership that might have been the belief of those excluded from the inner circle.

© John Dunn.


Wednesday, 14 February 2018 at 20:42

Marx and Hegel on Dr John Dunn. The dialectical process of Hegels’s Phenomenology was not a process within truth but a process to truth, or the Absolute, the One, Ein Sof. In other words, Hegel conceived the eternal becoming of experience by conceiving the Absolute idea as the fixed end to which finite thinking aspires. This was a declaration of the transcendence of truth to the act of thinking or experience, a return to a pre-existent truth rather than the generation of the truth. Such an exilic kabbalah of return from exile was too readily co-opted by Marx as the self-sustaining dialectical motor of progression in his own Spinozist schema.

Marx clearly saw the Spinoza in Hegel. As a result, Hegel was easily turned on his head by Marx, i.e. RE-SPINOZISED. But Hegel was not Marx’s main target in this act of inversion. By upturning Hegel, Marx rebutted Fichte’s treatment of Spinoza.

Hegel is to be credited with being the first to be fully conscious of the need of a new logic to solve the problem of experience. Marx understood this. But Hegel’s dialectic supplemented Spinoza’s philosophy rather than superseded it, confirming Spinoza’s thinking rather than discrediting it.

© John Dunn.

Spinoza and freedom

Tuesday, 13 February 2018 at 20:30

Spinoza on Dr John Dunn. The popular view (I should add, popular amongst most academic philosophers), is that Spinoza was in some way a herald to the new freedoms of the modern world. For him, all things originated in God, or the original Substance as he described it, but, in a sense he was a proto-materialist of the modern age. For Substance, read matter. All things, according to him, originate in this matter and the fixed laws of nature associated with it. Man, therefore, according to this view, has no possibility of freedom, because his every thought and action are necessarily determined by external material causes.

Spinoza can only offer a paradoxical way out by arguing that ‘freedom’ can come through a recognition of necessity, which is a viewpoint shared by all materialists, including Marx.

The following paragraphs from Rudolf Steiner’s The Philosophy of Freedom, which is a useful summary of a position that I mostly hold on Spinoza.

Free Necessity Of One's Nature

Others, too, start from the same point of view in combating the concept of free will. The germs of all the relevant arguments are to be found as early as Spinoza. All that he brought forward in clear and simple language against the idea of freedom has since been repeated times without number, but as a rule enveloped in the most sophisticated arguments, so that it is difficult to recognize the straightforward train of thought which is alone in question. Spinoza writes in a letter of October or November, 1674,

"I call a thing free which exists and acts from the pure necessity of its nature, and I call that unfree, of which the being and action are precisely and fixedly determined by something else. Thus, e.g., God, though necessary, is free because he exists only through the necessity of his own nature. Similarly, God knows himself and all else as free, because it follows solely from the necessity of his nature that he knows all. You see, therefore, that for me freedom consists not in free decision, but in free necessity

But let us come down to created things which are all determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner. To perceive this more clearly, let us imagine a perfectly simple case. A stone, for example, receives from an external cause acting upon it a certain quantity of motion, by reason of which it necessarily continues to move, after the impact of the external cause has ceased. The continued motion of the stone is due to compulsion, not to the necessity of its own nature, because it requires to be defined by the impact of an external cause. What is true here for the stone is true also for every other particular thing, however complicated and many-sided it may be, namely, that everything is necessarily determined by external causes to exist and to act in a fixed and definite manner.

Now, pray, assume that this stone during its motion thinks and knows that it is striving to the best of its power to continue in motion. This stone which is conscious only of its striving and is by no means indifferent, will believe that it is absolutely free, and that it continues in motion for no other reason than its own will to continue. Now this is that human freedom which everybody claims to possess and which consists in nothing but this, that men are conscious of their desires, but ignorant of the causes by which they are determined. Thus the child believes that he desires milk of his own free will, the angry boy regards his desire for vengeance as free, and the coward his desire for flight. Again, the drunken man believes that he says of his own free will what, sober again, he would fain have left unsaid, and as this prejudice is innate in all men, it is difficult to free oneself from it. For, although experience teaches us often enough that man least of all can temper his desires, and that, moved by conflicting passions, he perceives the better and pursues the worse, yet he considers himself free because there are some things which he desires less strongly, and some desires which he can easily inhibit through the recollection of something else which it is often possible to recall.”

It is easy to detect the fundamental error of this view, because it is so clearly and definitely expressed. The same necessity by which a stone makes a definite movement as the result of an impact, is said to compel a man to carry out an action when impelled thereto by any cause. It is only because man is conscious of his action, that he thinks himself to be its originator. In doing so, he overlooks the fact that he is driven by a cause which he must obey unconditionally. The error in this train of thought is easily brought to light. Spinoza, and all who think like him, overlook the fact that man not only is conscious of his action, but also may become conscious of the cause which guides him. Anyone can see that a child is not free when he desires milk, nor the drunken man when he says things which he later regrets. Neither knows anything of the causes, working deep within their organisms, which exercise irresistible control over them. But is it justifiable to lump together actions of this kind with those in which a man is conscious not only of his actions but also of their causes? Are the actions of men really all of one kind? Should the act of a soldier on the field of battle, of the scientific researcher in his laboratory, of the statesman in the most complicated diplomatic negotiations, be placed on the same level with that of the child when he desires milk? It is, no doubt, true that it is best to seek the solution of a problem where the conditions are simplest. But lack of ability to see distinctions has before now caused endless confusion. There is, after all, a profound difference between knowing the motive of my action and not knowing it. At first sight this seems a self-evident truth. And yet the opponents of freedom never ask themselves whether a motive of action which I recognize and understand, is to be regarded as compulsory for me in the same sense as the organic process which causes the child to cry for milk.

Posted by John Dunn.

Threat to be confronted

Monday, 12 February 2018 at 20:35

Fichte on Dr John Dunn.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814)

Freedom was not for Fichte an end in itself, or something to be found in Nature. Fichte's freedom, John Dunn recounts.It was certainly not a return to anything that once existed. Freedom to Fichte meant an independence from nature. Only then would there be scope for the spontaneous and creative activity, which Dante had held analogous to that of the first Creator in whose image man was made - the creative activity that distinguished man from beasts and deified the Absolute I as God. Only with such freedom ‘could a new equality arise - a uniform progress of culture in all individual men’. (Vocation of the Scholar)

Rousseau’s reduction of humanity to ‘a race of animals’ was the threat to be confronted. After all, a bestial docility was not altogether undesirable to those who would exploit the productive capacity of such ‘free’ individuals. On this point, the Marrano Spinoza’s counter-humanist, counter-Renaissance, project comes most readily to mind.

© John Dunn.

Erasmus, Thomas More and John Colet

Sunday, 28 January 2018 at 19:13

Thomas More on Dr John Dunn. The cultural environment nurtured under Henry VII enabled the circle of scholars associated with Erasmus of Rotterdam to flourish. Erasmus, Thomas More (pictured) and John Colet looked to education as an Eleusian way to freedom, tantamount to a transfiguration, recalling Dante’s declaration that the truly free individual possesses crown and mitre over himself, i.e. the power of mind over which no secular or clerical authority can rule. These Renaissance thinkers saw the possibility of transforming citizens into the equivalent of Plato’s ‘philosopher kings’. This idea was expressed by Erasmus two years after his arrival in England in 1499, when his Handbook of the Militant Christian was published. Like Dante and others in the conspiracy of intelligence, Erasmus argued for the rejection of Aristotelian sense certainty, ‘the poison of representation’ described by Dante in Canto IV of Paradise, turning instead to Plato for inspiration.

In man, reason discharges the office of king... Consider the dregs of the lower classes to be those affections or passions that dissent as much as possible from the decrees of reason and that are least humble. These are lust, lechery, envy, and similar diseases of the mind, which we ought to resist as overseers restrain dirty, vile slaves so as to ensure that they perform the tasks assigned them by the master, or, at least, so as to prevent them from doing harm. The divinely inspired Plato wrote of all these things in his Timaeus.

Thomas More developed this theme in Utopia, in which he argued that to become Platonic ‘philosopher kings’, all the nation’s citizens would have to be schooled, for it was ‘impossible to do all things well unless all men are good’.

© John Dunn.

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