Sunday, 15 October 2017

Poetry and Reason

When you shave with a straight razor you need to focus on the job in hand; cold, clear, clinical; and palping and stretching the skin against the grain mutter your implacable enemy’s name to make the hairs stand out. Whisk them away before they have time to retreat. Ply the emollient lotion of emotion recollected in tranquillity. Very close, very Brooks of Sheffield.

Emotion but not only emotion. In classical times verse was used to write philosophical texts. I think that the demands of prosody made the writer avoid the pitfalls of cliché or those mental grooves that we normally run it. They were forced to think past the habitual, ‘I suspect’, ‘I worry’, ‘this muddle’ and work into a new clarity. The Four Quartets of T.S. Eliot achieve this.

Deep thinking is attainable only by a man of deep feeling, and all truth is a species of revelation

To make the reason spread light over our feeling, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason
(from S.T. Coleridge Aids to Reflection and The Friend)

Friday, 13 October 2017

Nichomachean Ethics

Simple and naive questions about the Nichomachean Ethics: dare to be stupid o.k. Who was Ari, who did he lecture to and what were, in the immortal terms of the teacher’s lesson plan, his Aims & Objectives?

A: He was well connected, lectured to the elite well connected and prepared them to connect to the well connected. His virtues had a strong instrumental cast to them, essentially those that were likely to win friends and influence people. My instinctive reaction to the N.E. is distaste and repulsion. I realize that I am irrational in this but there it is.

Stoicism and achievement

Can Stoicism which is unconcerned with mere externals be eudaemonistic when actual achievement is surely a mark of a flourishing life? That is unquestionably a false dichotomy for the stoic practice of focusing on the present moment does not eliminate results. It could be said that it is a much more effective way of achieving a good outcome as one’s attentions are altogether gathered and not divided. Moreover being overly concerned with results or how your actions will contribute to your posthumous fame is a distorting factor:

If therefore it be a thing external that causes thy grief, know, that it is not that properly that doth cause it, but thine own conceit and opinion regarding the thing; which thou mayest rid thyself of , when thou wilt.
(from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius)

Sunday, 8 October 2017

F.H. Bradley on Matthew Arnold's Religion

I have written of that high toned vivacity which was a mark of the Victorian grand style as practiced by Arnold, Newman and in the following extract from Bradley. (Taken from Francis Herbert Bradley by T.S. Eliot)

Eliot:Here is the identical weapon of Arnold, sharpened to a razor edge and turned against Arnold. ((the following is from Bradley's Ethical Essays))

‘But the “stream” and the “tendency” having served their turn, like last week’s placards, now fall into the background, and we learn at last that “the Eternal” is not eternal at all, unless we give that name to whatever a generation sees happen, and believes both has happened and will happen — just as the habit of washing ourselves might be termed “the Eternal not ourselves that makes for cleanliness”, or “Early to bed and early to rise” the “Eternal not ourselves that makes for longevity”, and so on — that “the Eternal”, m short, is nothing in the world but a piece ofliterary clap-trap. The consequence is that all we are left with isthe assertion that “righteousness” is “ salvation” or welfare, and that there is a “law” and a “Power” which has something to do with this fact; and here again we must not be ashamed to say that we fail to understand what any one of these phrases means, and suspect ourselves once more to be on the scent of clap-trap.’

A footnote conunues the Arnold-baiting in a livelier style:(Eliot)

‘“Is there a God?” asks the reader. “Oh yes,” repkue Mr. Arnold, “and I can verify him in experience.” “And what is he then?” cries the reader. “Be virtuous, and as a rule you will be happy,” is the answer. “Well, and God?” “That is God”, says Mr. Arnold; “there is no deception, and what more do you want?” I suppose we do want a good deal more. Most of us, certainly the public which Mr. Arnold addresses, want something they can worship; and they will not find that in an hypostasized copy-book heading, which is not much more adorable than “Honesty is the best policy”, or “Handsome is that handsome does”, or various other edifying maxims, which have not yet come to an apotheosis.’

How prescient of Mr. Eliot

I must introduce a parenthetical protest against the abuse of the current term ‘social justice’. From meaning ‘justice in relations between groups or classes’ it may slip into meaning a particular assumption as to what these relations should be; and a course of action might be supported because it represented the aim of ‘social justice’, which from the point of view of ‘justice’ was not just. The term ‘social justice’ is in danger of losing its rational content which would he replaced by a powerful emotional charge. I believe that I have used the term myself: it should never be employed unless the user is prepared to define clearly what social justice means to him, and why he thinks it just.
(from Notes Towards the Definition of Culture)

Social Justice Warrior:
- You Mr. Eliot are an elitist fascist and I can point that out without having to explain myself or my position which is very complicated and anyway all my FB friends don’t like you. I’m upset.

Friday, 6 October 2017

The Happy Medium

What the good person takes to be good is good according to Aristotle. What the good person does often happens to coincide with a mean, the aurea mediocritas, but not always. A good person may take extreme positions on slavery, on abortion, on rack renting, on social protection etc. The happy medium might be ‘these things will always be with us, we cannot eliminate them so let us try to regulate them in a humane a way as possible’. Correction by History or fatuous meliorism won’t suffice. The good person is, in that over used metaphor, an icon. An icon’s mysterious powers are attained by the artists work on himself via ‘prayer and fasting’. Being perfect from the Latin ‘perfectus’, finished, is not a state that the good person has attained, his work on himself is continuous, never ending.

To focus on actions as the absolute base of our moral assessment of a person is wrong when we don’t know what is in their heart. A tree growing in the shade of another one grows crooked trying to maximise
access to light.

Half right and wholly wrong the Utilitarian is open to evil remedies because results are what count.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Hamlet and Private Judgment (A Protestant to be or not to be)

Stripped of its euphony:

Non existence is a hard one. Some suss really. Some people have very bad luck and you wouldn’t blame them for doing away with themselves. It’s like being asleep only you won’t wake up. But the dreams might not be good. So we stick it out and put up with the boss and legal hassles and all the rest of it in our miserable lives. We just don’t know what’s after life if there is. Thinking and second thoughts paralyze us.

But hey, Ophelia will pray for me.

I think you will agree, that is philosophically trite but there may be a reason for it. In the month of the 500th. anniversary of the nailing of the Articles to the Church Door in Wittenberg where Hamlet went to University I suggest that he in that famous soliloquy is suffering from a bad case of private judgment. Why did old Catholic Hamlet send young Hamlet to that center of Lutheran thought? To become a new man with a new subjectively informed conscience, to get with the program.
((Have a look at, I prithee:
Newman on Private Judgment
Disagree with it but enjoy his ‘supple, periodic prose (Joyce) and his high toned ironic vivacities))

Not far away in time or place Rene Descartes was retiring into an airing room to consult his personal certainty and get it all quite clear. ‘I doubt said the Carpenter and shed a bitter tear’.

Shakespeare had recusant sympathies, that is clear but within the rules of what was permitted on the stage had to hold back on religious controversy. Magic, witchcraft, the Ides of March, love potions and the like were the nearest he could come to discussing spiritual matters. Yet it comes out In Hamlet with mentions of purgatory, auricular confession, remission of sins, the intercession of the dead and the life of the world to come. Above all it is the violent chaos that issues from the Wittenbergerish private judgment that is the central theme. Shakespeare’s father was involved in the Talibanism of the destruction of rood screens and statues, the painting over of murals, and the smashing of stained glass windows of the churches that were under new management. That such atrocity would never surface in the myriad minded man Shakespeare is not credible. At the end of it all the stage of Europe is littered with bodies and Tyburn is ‘a place of much commerce’.