Sunday, December 13, 2009

"He does not need to look in a different direction to behold the universal world"

I thought I would try to finish my notetaking on Pieper's book. This is about Chapter III in The Philosophical Act.

"The one who philosophizes does not turn his head in a different direction, when he transcends the work a day world in the philosophical act; he does not take his eye off the things of the working world -- away, that is, from the concrete, purposeful, manageable items of the working day -- he does not need to look in a different direction in order to behold the universal world of essences."
So this answers the question about whether you have to choose either philosophy OR the everyday world in which we live, the quotidian world. When the philosopher stands outside the canopy, and looks from his vantage point, he doesn't fix his gaze outside the world, but upon it. The philosopher is concerned with "what is" -- the sum total of reality.

The world becomes "transparent" in a way, then. Does this make it lose its quiddity, its "whatness", its reality? No, because everyday reality, sensory and immediate, to the Greeks and to Christians as well, is not all there is. And it can fool, can distract. Think of the story of Martha and Mary. What looked real -- the immediate, the urgent, the busy and brisk -- was and is a lesser thing. Those things pass, but what remains and endures is the subject matter of philosophy.

Pieper says:

"The common mind, rendered deaf-mute, finds everything self-explanatory"
I think here of how CS Lewis, in the Narnian chronicles, sometimes talks about the "annoying sort of grownup" who is always concerned with pragmatics. The "common mind" is a very grown-up one. No child comes into the world with a common mind. It has to be inculcated. Every small child lives in the world of Pooh until adult imperatives close the doors, but it is not a necessary exile. Philosophy is concerned with the wonder of the everyday, so the philosopher (though his mind and concerns grow into adulthood) retains the essential simplicity of the child.

Pieper says that the particular characteristic of the contingent, to the unphilosophical person, is its density, its compactness. But this is illusory. Literature (poetry), philosophy, and religion all teach this in their own ways. The natural sciences can be a gateway to this realization as well-- so can math -- but often they aren't, because of the way they are taught, as servile, as means to power through technological advances or through personal knowledge. And literature and philosophy can be hemmed in by the "canopy" -- they can be taught as clever tricks, as "abouts" to analyze, or as subjective ephemereal perceptions with emotional resonance only, rather than being participated in as devotees, discerning the truth of how things are.

Pieper points out that though philosophy is about reality, the first glimpses can have a stunning effect and make one reel -- trip and tumble into a well to the derision of the Thracian handmaiden. Socrates calls himself a "stingray", that numbs his victims. Pieper quotes Theatatus:

But, O my friend, when he draws the other into upper air, and gets him out of his pleas and rejoinders into the contemplation of justice and injustice in their own nature and in their difference from one another and from all other things; or from the commonplaces about the happiness of a king or of a rich man to the consideration of government, and of human happiness and misery in general-what they are, and how a man is to attain the one and avoid the other-when that narrow, keen, little legal mind is called to account about all this, he gives the philosopher his revenge; for dizzied by the height at which he is hanging, whence he looks down into space, which is a strange experience to him, he being dismayed, and lost, and stammering broken words, is laughed at, not by Thracian handmaidens or any other uneducated persons, for they have no eye for the situation, but by every man who has not been brought up a slave.
It's a disorienting feeling, which makes people stumble, as if you were blind and suddenly saw something, and were so confused by the visual signs and the new light that you couldn't trace your old pathways by feel properly anymore.

But it's not a matter of looking for oddness, just a matter of seeing the old common things in a new way. Pieper calls "bohemian" the mind that is always attached to the strange, the grotesque, the weird, -- he thinks "bohemian" is only the counter-sign to "bourgeois". Say, if Babbitt is the symbol of the bourgeois -- always happily wrapped up in his quest for the dollar, for the new invention, for the mediocre "good things" of life, then perhaps the Babbitt type will raise a son or daughter like the college student of the Sixties, who takes much pride in his odd clothes, his groovy decorations, his slang that no one over 30 can understand, his political "causes". But this is only another way of being bourgeois. You're still under the canopy, enclosed in your Umwelt, concerned with appearances rather than real things. You will still have that lost feeling of being suspended over space, if you ever chance to open your eyes.

But while you "lose" your narrow equilibrium when you philosophize, you gain something better:

"The inner wealth of wonder is fulfilled in a sense for mystery. The inner orientation of wonder does not aim for the stirring up of doubt, but rather for the recognition that being as being is incomprehensible and full of mystery; that being itself is a mystery, a mystery in the real meaning of the word; not merely disorientation, or irrationality, or even darkness. Mystery implies much more; that a reality is incomprehensible for this reason, that the light that it sheds is unfathomable, unquenchable, inexhaustible."
Here Pieper is pointing to something that he will discuss more fully in chapter IV.... the essentially religious nature of philosophy.

Aquinas sees this as a proof that the human being can only be satisfied by the vision of God, and, vice versa, that this orientation toward the absolute ground of the world provides the very reason why man can feel astonishment. Thomas is of the opinion that the first wonder one feels forms the first step on the path that leads to the beatific vision, the state of blessedness resulting from reaching the ultimate Cause.

Because mystery and illimitability are of no interest to the animal, the biological specimen, even the most clever and advanced. It's something to turn away from, or try to master in some way.

Yesterday I was reading this Templeton Conversation: Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete? Scientists are generally clever creatures. Pieper quotes a man called Dilthey:

A physicist is an agreeable entity, useful for himself and others; a philosopher, like the saint, only exists as an ideal.
The scientists that don't care for religion, however, tend to think that religionists think of God as a hypothesis that explains present human ignorance in some areas of physical science. They seem to think that when and if all material reality is explained, there will be no room for God. They don't seem to realize that the natural sciences in their very selves, as they are known by humans, point beyond the natural sciences. It is like the boy with a hammer to whom everything looks like a nail, or perhaps like the Leo Lionni story where the fish, being told by the frog about life outside the pond, imagines the cows and people and birds described by the frog as a certain type of fish.

Hammers are great for nails, and I find them useful for chipping the ice out of the bottom of our old refrigerator, whereas even the best philosophy wouldn't really make any dent at all in that sheet of ice. But why hammers exist, how men come to make tools, and why building or chipping is a good thing stands outside, and envelopes in reality though not sensorially, the actual act of pounding or even the more direct scientific question of what physical laws make hammering effective. Philosophy can't help leaking into our world. Babbitt realizes the essential hollowness of his life. The scientist philosophizes even when he says man is merely a clever animal formed by evolution to be capable of some advanced tricks. But people turn away from it, or use it as a tool to gain power, if only over their own perceptions. Again, Lewis puts this into vivid form several times in the Narnian Chronicles, but perhaps most applicably when Uncle Andrew, the pedestrian technological magician, convinces himself that Aslan and the Talking Animals are simply acting like beasts, and finally can't hear them talk even if he would.

So, to recap:

  • Philosophy is concerned with being as being.... the reality of how things are.
  • It comprehends everyday reality and looks deeper within it; it does not distort or deny it.
  • It is essentially bound up, by its nature, with mystery, because we are finite and reality is not.
  • It can have a disorienting effect, even interfering with the efficiency of daily function, but this has to do with the very heart of how things are -- that efficient function per se is not the essence of our human estate (again, look at Martha and Mary)

1 comment:

I would love to hear your thoughts on this!