Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Plato and Dionysian Mania

An 8th century Corinthian skyphos (wine-drinking cup).

"A careful reading of the Symposium reveals that Plato’s comparison of Socrates with the Satyrs relies exactly on the discrepancy between appearances and essence."

Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides
November 8, 2021 

In this piece I discuss Plato’s description of Socrates’ philosophical inspiration as “drunkenness” and/or Dionysian mania; Plato’s metaphor draws on earlier Greek poetry, including Euripides and his popular play The Bacchants, where Dionysus is praised as the inventor of “liquid drink of the grape” (line 279).

Importantly, Plato also draws on Solon, the famous lawgiver and poet of archaic Athens, who discussed extensively the drinking etiquette of ancient communities as a reflection of their civic character. Yet, the application of this metaphor on Socrates and his philosophical genius was fraught with difficulties since Socrates, known for conversing with the so-called daimonion, the inner voice or sign that guided him, and frequently undergoing trances in public, could be easily misunderstood as a common drunkard or even a madman — especially since wine abuse was also believed to cause madness.

To avoid the risk of contributing to the misperceptions of the Athenians about Socrates, Plato insisted that Socratic ecstasy is utterly sober (even though it can involve wine-drinking and may occur in a sympotic context). Drunkenness is a culturally embedded comparison that allowed Plato to articulate the mind-altering abilities of philosophy while offering a concrete example of how to prepare ourselves for that kind of philosophical revelation. Furthermore, Plato defends the valuable contribution of “drunken” or inspired philosophers and their insights to the city.

Read it all here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Eudaimonia: On the natural resources of the soul

Eye of Providence Window, Santa Maria Assunta (Baselga del Bondone, Trento)

Lynn Merrill-Paduck

Our cognitive identities are thinking ourselves into being, into becoming ‘more than’. Yet it is easy to fall prey to intellectually reducing the three living values of Nous-Soma-Psyche (the Triunity), into a mere mind-body-spirit disjunction (the tripartite self) which necessarily diminishes access to true unity. Without a deep awareness of our triune souls, humans are trapped in a poverty of consciousness, lacking any teleological direction to attain the existential love that restores us to the Divine. The gifts of the triune may be placed within us, fleshly temporal matter, yet are not of it, for they come to us from the Aeternal, and continually draw us back unto that incontrovertible reality, as an assent towards the heavenly divine (the Good, the One). The tripartite self that we experience in the flesh can be balanced, integrated, and lived as an actualized soul, nearly unencumbered by the egoistic concerns of the mind-spirit, or the demands of carnal reality.

The soul seed is natively positioned at the center of the disjunctive tripartite self, unactivated. It remembers residing amongst the Aeternal Form of the Triunity, the greater totality of our being before birth, and it wants to recollect its indivisible wholeness. The triune soul depends on intellect to lead the way methodologically back to its source. Using our intellect we reach forth, as witnesses of the ancient promise of theorific contemplation, yet this is only one of the three portions. We must necessarily make our peace with the other portions of our being as well, body and spirit, which conform not to our will to ‘become’, but ever refute our ascent by drawing us back down into those relationships that primarily partake of the carnality of man (the fodder of concupiscence). There is no peace to be had however, in the denial of the flesh. Minimum maintenance and respect is always required, as are the relationships of the spirit of man to his total community. Neither is respite to be had by a complete ‘outsourcing’ of our inner authority to Doctors, Psychiatrists, or Ministers. Blind adherence is self-abnegating when we force ourselves into the ideal of the ‘other’, whether medical, therapeutic or doctrinal. Becoming a non-self doesn’t help anyone. Individuation is required, to orphan the soul from its excess attachments, because only a searing loneliness or deliberate isolation can provide the intentionality to reunite with the Divine. Keeping busy with earthly matters is the greatest trap, and is a direct avoidance of that very precondition.

It seems that all souls have the capacity for revelatory insight at whatever level of health, reclusion and intellect they are at, IF they integrate these tripartite resources into a quest for personal meaning. For most persons however, they place undue emphasis on only one leg of these three, and therefore miss out on their integrative gifts. Rejecting parts through scientific reductionism, mythic reductionism or apatheticism will block the pathway to The Ineffable Good. Clinging to any third(s) is vain illusion and defeats the soul quest; only a subsuming integration leads to the Divine. These three are ontologically inseparable, and even clinging to all three thirds without integration results in a conflicted humanity, the dualistic actor who juggles. There is no sufficiency to be had in a fragmented nature.

Polemicists make resolution look easy, since they are only balancing two attenuated ideas. Finding the midpoint of a duality can remain solely intellectual, a logoistic endeavor.
Yet since this objective - subjective reality has no ‘witness’, no Paraclete, no Divine Home for the soul, humanity is still bereft, without providence. Not so with a Triunity. This is never a thesis-antithesis-synthesis, which is actually only a resolved polemic. Nor is I-thou-we a Triunity. That level of We-ness is most desirable from an ecopsychological vantage, yet still it is completely material and earthly in content. This is the most mature phase of integrating our fragmented collectivity into an awareness of our participation mystique in the Holy Ghost. Neither private nor collective, ‘we’ are now acting members of the Imaginal Realm, lucid participants of the conscious (non-dreaming) tertiary engagement. Getting this far with uniting ones mind-body-spirit is a profound blessing indeed. Deeply comforting, but it is not yet truly Universal.

One cultivates the tripartite self through appropriate investment in its multiple parts, all the while looking through the lens of Divine Contemplation. To put down the haggardlinesses of our polemics is the one great task on the Divine chore list, and we must therefore turn to the Christos. He provides the place; wherever two or more are drawn together, the sincere gift of dialectical conversation resolves many lower mysteries, freeing the higher qualities of mind to true contemplation of the Divine. This becomes the fortitude of a new morality, this quest for ‘meaning’ as we discover the Ethical Divine together, non-conscripted to affections or temporal matter. Interior self control is the key to this sophrososynetic virtue. We need to empty ourselves of egoism.

Once actualized, there is no going back to sit in only one corner of your tripartite being, for the change is permanent, transcendent and epiphanic. The Anagoge itself is a depiction of ascent past the point of the personal, to ‘become’ in the depths of our mind-spirit-body at the point of passing it all up (a truer depth psychology there may never be) a type of personal pleroma that generates the most proficiently Divine Nous possible. Ones personality still has edges, yet there remains no private content, for all has been shed, shuffed off as material relations that hinder actualization. Once integrated, it seems that these bonds are inseparable, and the inner vision becomes the outer reality. (And now we might have reached the point where we truly have nothing to say for ourselves.) Things that can be explained are not transcendent knowledge, but rather are symbols of the unexplainable, which contain the direct transference of the One Ineffable Good into the actualized soul.

The separate values of the tripartite self need to be blended, integrated, to provide access to the divine mind within, sparking into life the ‘soul seed’, latent within all men, as an ‘eye’, like the triangular iconographic image of God of medieval days. Even though we cannot sustain a constant participation in it, we cannot escape what we now KNOW. We must reach forth from there to the Triunity of: personal pleroma / ethics of the eternal forms / contemplation of Divine Nous, to find and awaken the Eye of GOD within all of us.

Plotinus’ anti-fleshliness arises from the (seeming) utter dependence of the intellect on the flesh as the vehicle for soulful communion, to the exclusion of the other aspect of equally great import, the spirit. This keening awareness may have resulted in part from having a slave wet-nurse for eight years, because the inequities of our dependencies usually horrifies the evolved mind. Plotinus was (on the way to) purporting the hypostases of the Triunity, yet he placed the ineffable within one triadic corner, rather than transcendently centering it above, and we know that Porphyry was not a Christian sentimentalist, and (may have) misrepresented his master's mind. The monad is only described so painstakingly for the sake of the unintegrated tripartite soul as a signpost along the way, to avoid dualism. The ordering of the ‘emanations’ is confusing when ‘a God’ (Aedonai) is your personal spirit guide, and yet you’re still a pagan.

Humility, self restriction, practical justice unto others, intellectual inquiry, regular communion with like seekers, gender indistinction, shunning base interests, personalized ritual prayer; any beautiful list of tools and practical skills can get us up to the point of parading as Pharisees, but getting beyond that point requires an interiority, an inward integration. Open-hearted Prayer is the call outward and upward, silent meditation containing no thoughts is the receipt inward, for the Henosis has no room for our ego.

To trust the Grace in which we are already immersed, as the present Parousia of the Christos is the great gift. Like a joyous fish in water, we cannot truly describe it.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Sartre and Camus on Politics


Camus and Sartre

Albert Camus (1913-1960) was born into poverty in Mondovi, Algeria. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was reared in high French society. They met in Paris during the Nazi Occupation and became close friends after the War. As Europe began to rebuild, they became prominent political voices.

The two Existentialists were pursued by reporters and often quoted. Their eventual falling out received a great deal of media attention.

As Sam Dresser notes, "Readers looked to Sartre and Camus to articulate what that new world might look like." 

"We were," Simone de Beauvoir observed, "to provide the postwar era with its ideology."

Both men believed that the workers were oppressed and that new political systems were needed to liberate them from poverty. Camus leaned toward Socialism and Sartre favored Communism. In Paris, Camus wrote editorials for the underground Resistance journal Combat, to which Sartre contributed articles. 

In October 1951, Camus published The Rebel in which he articulated his idea of freedom as a process of constant non-violent re-balancing. He wrote, "Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate," while "absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom." The conflict between justice and freedom required political moderation, and acceptance of the limitations of our humanity. Camus recognized that institutionalized political bodies must impose authoritarian actions, and all one can do is shout, No!

Concerning his ideology of the French Resistance: “If we have a doctrine to formulate,” Camus wrote in a 1943 letter, “it would be one of a balance of justice and of liberty, certainly difficult to realize, but outside of which nothing can be done.”

The Rebel declared Camus' preference for a peaceful socialism. The news from the USSR appalled him. Under Soviet Communism there was no freedom at all. Sartre reported that Camus "hated Communism."

Sartre disliked Camus' approach considering it "bad faith." He felt that Communism was the best system to address the dehumanizing effects of poverty, and he was prepared to endorse violence. Sartre continued to advocate Communism until 1956, when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and brutally crushed the Hungarian freedom movement. Thousands were killed and wounded and nearly a quarter-million Hungarians fled their homeland.

Though Sartre distanced himself from Soviet style Communism, he never abandoned the idea that revolutionary violence might be warranted. His commitment to violent overthrow of unjust systems became acute after the 1968 May-June student riots in France. Well into his advanced years he participated in Leftist marches, some of which turned violent. He is described by Agnès Poirier as having the "sparkle of the perpetually angry man." 

Doubtless, his 1940 captivity in a Fascist prison camp colored Sartre's world. Sartre described his experience in an interview with a family friend John Gerassi. He said, "The Germans were the elite. The fascistoid prisoners were the enforcers of the elite. And the rest of us, the exploited who could only surpass the feeling of exploitation by bonding together." (J. Gerassi, Talking With Sartre: Conversations and Debates, Yale University Press, 2009, p. 105)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Can Computer Debates Advance the Philosophical Project?


Descartes and Heidegger fight it out

Justin Wienberg explores the potential of computers to do philosophy. His article was prompted by an article in Nature about the work of Noam Slonim (IBM), Yonatan Bilu (KI Institute), and Ranit Aharonov (IBM) to develop Project Debater, an autonomous computer system, that can argue with and debate humans as well the progress made with the language and communication skills of artifical intelligence, as demonstrated by GPT-3.

Weinberg writes:

As I tell my students, philosophy isn’t debate (the former is oriented towards understanding, the latter towards winning). But some of the work that goes into debate is similar to the work that goes into philosophy. What’s provocative about Project Debater, GPT-3, and related developments to me is that it suggests the near-term possibility of computing technology and language models semi-autonomously mapping out, in natural language, the assumptions and implications of arguments and their component parts.

One way to understand the body of knowledge philosophy generates is as a map of the unknown, or set of maps. Philosophical questions are points on the maps. So are premises, assumptions, principles, and theories. The “roads” on the maps are the arguments, implications, and inferences between these points, covering the ground of necessity and possiblity.

Individual philosophical works that pose questions, develop arguments, justify premises, and explore the implications of positions make small maps of small bits of the vast terrain of the unknown, and often provide “directions” to others about how to navigate it."


Justin wonders "What should we be doing now in regard to the development of such technology, or in regard to other prospects for the integration of computing into philosophy?"

Read the full article here.

Related reading: “Computational Philosophy” at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Does Philosophy Have Value?; Ontology and the Philosophical Project

Monday, March 15, 2021

Foucault's Order of Things


Alice C. Linsley

In Another Look at Michel Foucault, I explored Foucault's thought in contrast to the thought of Loren Eiseley. In that article, I expressed my preferences for Eiseley's anthropological outlook. My bias is due to my empirical inclination and to the fact that I am an anthropologist. Eiseley's reflections in The Immense Journey (1959) and The Invisible Pyramid (1970) are grounded in physical discovery and in material culture. Foucault's psychological outlook is less grounded in real time and physical discovery. More anthropological data would have strengthened Foucault's work.

In this critique of Foucault's work I begin by pointing to the positive aspects. He is to be applauded for attempting an interdisciplinary approach at a time when the academic disciplines were more rigidly departmentalized.

His development of "discontinuity of thought" is an excellent way to speak of change, and in the Foreword to the English edition of The Order of Things (1966), he acknowleges that changes do not "occur at the same level, proceed at the same pace, or obey the same laws." 

In that Foreword, Foucault alludes to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), and he explains that he wants to avoid attribution of knowledge to individuals, or to collective efforts, or even to single discoveries. He hopes to explore knowledge as a discourse above time. The effect of this is to erase the accomplishments of individuals who deserve to be remembered.

By limiting his exploration of knowledge to five recent centuries, Foucault ignores antecedants that bring the larger picture into focus. His framing of Western European civilization makes it easier for him to denounce it. To know only Foucault's world is to be stricken by anxiety and rage. Indeed, he is one of the angry nihilists of the 20th century whose thought contributes to cancellation of tradition, public institutions, collective memory, even Mankind.

In his more romantic, almost Nietzschean, passages Foucault is effective in effacing history. He is heir to Leo Strauss's closet nihilism and he elaborates on Nietzsche's nihilism.

Jeffery Jacob Wade contends here that "Strauss and his hidden nihilism is a direct result of his pessimistic view of the masses; whereas Nietzsche's Übermensch nihilism is brought about by his outlook on the prospect for development beyond humanity and Foucault's pure nihilism is drawn out from his notion of power/knowledge."

In his personal life Michel Foucault claimed to be happy, but that does not come across in his writings. He seems an angry man who struggled against established powers, against the traditional family, and against the Church (Madness and Civilization, p. 22). In this same book, Foucault attempted to portray Jesus as a sanctifier of insanity, demon possession, and prostitution.

There is no evidence in his work that Foucault appreciated humanity. He rode the "God is Dead" wave with enthusiasm as it promoted his "death of man" and anti-humanist persuasion. He described humanism as "the heaviest heritage that has come down to us from the nineteenth century" and he added, "it's high time we got rid of it." (Horizon, Autumn 1969, p. 36).

At times we hear echoes of Jacques Derrida in Foucault's work, but without Derrida's playfulness. Foucault did not see humanity as Homo ludens. His writings are full of drama and the tone is that of a man who takes himself very seriously and who wants his readers to do so as well. He comes closest to playfulness when he speaks of discourse as the modern episteme. There is enthusiasm in his efforts at deconstruction, as when one seeks to solve a puzzle or decipher a riddle. By the end of the project, however, we find many pieces of the puzzle are missing.

Foucault's precise attacks on the establishment, the Church, and traditional values limit his scope of exploration. There is no universality, except perhaps in the common experience of anger and disillusionment. His antihumanism produces a distorted view of Humanity. He maintains that Man is a modern invention, "a sort of image correlative with God" and as God has died, so will the humanist image of Mankind.

Foucault's generalizations are not difficult to disprove. In The Order of Things, he claims that all weatlh is coinable (p. 175), yet for thousands of years and to this day, cattle have been the source of wealth in many societies.

He says the "episteme" of sixteenth century Europe was based on "resemblance" such as the doctrine of signatures, and that this was discredited in the seventeenth century. He provides no explanation for how one episteme comes to be replaced by another. Had he looked at the bigger picture, he would have known that resemblances between plants and parts of the body are fundamental to the craft of Amazonian shamans, and their knowledge of plants has contributed to modern pharmacology.

Overall, Michel Foucault's work is interesting, though not timeless. It sets forth an attitude toward the world that some embrace today. It appeals to minds that resist tradition and are weary with history. Time itself will test the durability of his intellectual constructs.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Another Look at Michel Foucault


Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Alice C. Linsley

Recently, I read Michel Foucault's The Order of Things (1966) at the same time I was reading Loren Eiseley's The Immense Journey (1959). The contrast of Foucault's pessimism and Eiseley's optimism concerning humanity is striking. Foucault's background was in psychology and Eiseley's was in anthropology. Both disciplines explore what it is to be human, and yet these two thinkers draw very different conclusions. 

I admit a bias toward Eiseley because I also have a background in Anthropology (as well as Philosophy). I also admit to favoring Eiseley's pro-capitalism and environmental activism over Foucault's leftist politics and push for the decriminalization in France of "consensual" sexual relations between adults and minors below the age of fifteen. 

I prefer Eiseley's agnosticism to Foucault's atheism. Eiseley admits that the universe presents us with mysteries. Foucault rode the "God is Dead" wave with enthusiasm as it promoted his "death of man" and anti-humanist persuasion. He described humanism as "the heaviest heritage that has come down to us from the nineteenth century" and he added, "it's high time we got rid of it." (Horizon, Autumn 1969, p. 36).

I prefer Jacques Derrida's deconstruction in which he concluded that something is at the center; what he designated "transcendental signified.” He spoke of this something as "presence" that is sometimes called God. However, Derrida did not regard God is a being, but rather as a necessary function. 

The philosopher Roger Scruton has argued that Foucault was "a sort of passionate heretic" among modern atheists, "trying as it were, to use the numinosity of the irrational to plug the supposed gap left by the absent God." 

In his Madness and Civilization (1965) Foucault articulates madness as a function. He writes, "Madness deals not so much with truth and the world, as with man and whatever truth about himself he is able to perceive." (p. 27)

In Madness and Civilization Foucault develops the distance between reason and nonreason and comes across the romantic mystic. He digs in pre-selected ground as an archaeologist to discover how the exchange between madness and reason was silenced. He illustrates historical discontinuity by his division of European thought into disconnected epistemological dispositions, each called an episteme (from the Greek term for knowledge).  

Foucault's episteme of the sixteenth century is based on the idea of resemblance. He alludes to the Doctrine of Signatures, the belief that plants resemble the body parts they are intended to treat.

His episteme of the seventeenth century is based on the idea of representation. He recognizes that the thing represented is not the thing itself, noting the distinction between the sign and the thing signed (echoes of Derrida).

Foucault's episteme of the eighteenth century expresses itself in science and analysis, and it is here that he places the invention of Man. He writes, "It is a comfort, however, and a profound relief to think that man is only a recent invention, a figure less than two centuries old, a simple fold in our knowledge, and that he will disappear as soon as our knowledge finds a new form."

As an intellectual contruct that only resembles itself, Man cannot know his/her true essence. Here again, I find a contrast between Eiseley and Foucault. For Foucault, man is but a dream with no absolute ontological essence, and apparently, no future. Based on sometimes obscure references, Foucault postulates that godlike Man has "vaporized to the exact degree that one tracked him into his depths." He thinks that Man will disappear, "like a face of sand on the edge of the sea."

For Eiseley, man is the creature who dreams about the future. His dreams have taken him to the Moon and back. In the Invisible Pyramid, Eiseley writes, "Man would not be man if his dreams did not exceed his grasp..."  He also wrote, "Man is not totally compounded of the nature we profess to understand. Man is always partly of the future, which he possesses a power to shape." (Horizon, July 1960, p. 32)