Friday, March 27, 2015

Part 20: (The Natural Slave and the Old Philosophy?): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I (and friends from time to time) continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

The friends continue their discussion around the problem of the individual and the liberation project and in which Paul Van Fleet (PVF) responds to Flora Sapio.

Contents: HERE
(PVF) Are we inextricably under the hold of some machine?

When we enter our formative years, we are beset by ways of thinking that are designed to guide our development within our culture. Even the language we learn gives rise to certain philosophies; the atomic structure of English is very different from the contextual structure of Chinese. The English speaker will tend to understand the world as an interplay of unchanging symbols acting on each other, whereas the Chinese speaker understands these symbols as shifting and dependent upon the greater structure in which it exists (the Tao, or variants thereof). The means of expression that a culture teaches us, from the very start, is part of the beginnings of philosophical expression.

Aristotle's edifices are a natural extension from the Greek culture in which he was enmeshed. Much like English, ancient Greek has an atomic structure that lends itself to Aristotelian logic. For a contrast, Buddhist logic allows for certain logical structures that would "violate" the traditional rules of, such as those against the excluded middle. For some exposition into this system of logic, there is a great article in Aeon magazine, "Beyond true and false" by Graham Priest:

My main point is that the structure of Aristotelian domination mirrors the structure of language. We divide our thoughts into parts, without focusing on the nature of the "thought" itself. The subject may dominate the object, and one relation may dominate another. It is at this moment, when we learn a certain way of expressing our thoughts, that we could be considered "dominated."

But how can we function without these frameworks? This is the real question. The Zen masters say that expression is not needed to be attuned to the world, but even they must be constrained in some way, for they know language, and express themselves through it. Can anyone be free of domination in this way?

We can, however, find freedom within the constraints of the cage. Descartes noted that the truly "free" choice comes when the individual is limited in choice; he who has 50 choices cannot consider them all as fully as he who has only four, and the "free" choice (which could be linked with the "optimal" choice") is more open to he whose choice is constrained.

In the context of language, those who have sophistication in fewer languages, rather than limited proficiency in many, are able to communicate their ideas more articulately and include more nuances. Surely they cannot communicate with as many people, but their ideas can be more developed in their native tongue, and their capacity for expression is that much greater. Of course, talented are they who can express themselves in great detail in many languages.

Philosophically, we see this in the Aristotelian construct - the more sophisticated the construct, the more detailed the offshoots will be. There are very few philosophers who have really departed from the problems expressed by Plato and Aristotle, and entire structures have been built to reinforce their fundamental structure, as Flora points out. Some, however, attempt to build a new machine. Heidegger extends past Plato to the pre-Socratics for a new way to interpret Being; Nietzsche and Schopenhauer throw off conventional morality to express the primacy of the will.

Is the task before us, then, to create the new machine, or to deny the prospect of the machine completely? Is it even possible to function without some artifice supporting our interpretation, wherever that artifice may come from?

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