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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 But Hegel’s dialectic supplemented Spinoza’s philosophy rather than superseded it, confirming Spinoza’s thinking rather than discrediting it.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.

Breaking the alliance

Thursday, 25 January 2018 at 20:42

Longshanks on Dr John Dunn. Edward I went so far as to break this alliance by expelling the Jews from England in 1290, anticipating the action taken in Renaissance Spain by over 200 years. John Dunn writes on exploits. EdwardI’s exploits against the Welsh and the Scots are also to be understood as an attack upon one other element of the tripartite alliance. These wars have been subject to a retrospective historical distortion of the truth. They were not wars between nations; after all the concept of the nation state barely existed. Rather, Longshanks was fighting feudal warlords on the edges of his kingdom. ‘Scottish’ kings, such as John Balliol and Robert the Bruce, were not Scots as we might recognise them today. They were French speaking nobles and related to Edward himself. Like Edward, they would have much preferred to have been fighting in the Middle East on Crusade. Robert the Bruce had great landholdings deep into Yorkshire and John Balliol even endowed an Oxford College.

© John Dunn.

Whose Carta?

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 at 21:51

King John on Dr John Dunn.

King John

Magna Carta, that supposed written bastion of individual freedom, epitomised the power of the nobility to maintain its feudal privileges, even in the face of fierce opposition from the king. John Dunn revisits the king. In response to King John’s brave attempt to assert the authority of the monarch, the feudal barons enforced Magna Carta upon him, which was a charter establishing the rights of the nobility against the efforts of the king to rule a unified nation. The document, for example, guaranteed that the king would not force the nobles to carry out infrastructural improvements, such as constructing bridges. It prohibited the king from controlling trade and imposing tariffs. In short, it was an ultra-feudalist charter to prevent the king from breaking the proto-oligarchical alliance of nobles and money traffickers.

© John Dunn.

Simple ray of light

Friday, 19 January 2018 at 20:11

The pseudo-Dionysius’ picture on Dr John Dunn.

The pseudo-Dionysius’ return to God was in many respects an epistemological analysis of Gregory of Nyssa’s metaphorical portrayal of ecstasy, as thebride’s return to her lover. As so often in this Platonic underground, transfigurative light was the metaphor of choice. Thus Dionysius states in The Celestial Hierarchy:

We must lift up the immaterial and steady eyes of our minds to that outpouring of Light which is so primal, indeed much more so, and which comes from that source of divinity, I mean the Father. This is the Light which, by way of representative symbols, makes known to us the most blessed hierarchies among the angels. But we need to rise from this outpouring of illumination so as to come to the simple ray of Light itself.

That ‘simple ray of light’, the metaphorical embodiment of epoptika, will be in sight when all interpretive concepts have been abandoned through their ‘unknowing’.

It is in a state of ‘unknowing’ that the experience of silent union with the divine occurs. In The Mystical Theology, Dionysius provided an apt description, which reminds us of the epistemological struggle that Dante would later face in his poetry. we plunge into that darkness which is beyond intellect, we shall find ourselves not simply running short of words but actually speechless and unknowing.

Throughout The Divine Names and The Mystical Theology Dionysius expanded all conceptions of God beyond any contingencies. What we find in the text is not the description of an image or sense of God that may be thought of as a thing or experience amongst others, which would be nothing other than Jehovianism. Dionysius bursts through this limitation in an expansion of all images of the inscrutable One to a point beyond conception, out of the reach of every rational process. This was an exploration of the divinity of man to be found internally, in the act of imagination, as Dante was later to find.

The work of John Scotus Eriugena served as the primary channel of Dionysian thought, through his translations and appropriation of its content into a philosophical system.

© John Dunn.

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