Thursday, 29 January 2009

Wittgenstein and Lonergan

The variety and profusion of language games: cf. the varieties and profusion of common sense. there are as many type of common sense as there are places and times; and common sense is the ordinary context within which we live and work. And of course it is not static.

Wittgenstein's 'certainties' which form the 'framework': cf. beliefs. Common sense is largely inherited. We add to it our own personal judgments - but even here there is a complex symbiosis between what we discover for ourselves and what is inherited...

Kant, Schiller, Hegel

Kant: pure beauty is non-representational, because representational art is related to a concept. Thus the beauty of a man is not pure beauty, but dependent or adherent beauty. But music without words is pure beauty.

Schiller works out the relationship between beauty and the moral life. In sharp contrast to Plato, he holds that art and beauty can be conducive to the moral life.

Hegel agrees with Schiller, but goes further in pointing out that art is the representation / embodiment / manifestation of the Idea, part therefore of the objective Geist unfolding through history. But art is the lowest type of self-manifestation of the Idea, manifesting the Idea at the level of sense; higher than art is religion, which manifests the Idea at the level of myth and story; and the highest (and this is pure Hegel) is philosophy.

Further, once the Idea embodied in art has been expressed or articulated in a philosophical way – and Hegel has done that – there follows the death of art.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Kant on aesthetics

We have been reading selections from Kant's Critique of Judgment, his third critique.

It is wonderful to see the greats in action, in the first person: far better than the summaries in the histories of philosophy.

In the third critique, Kant is sharp, and also provocative at times.

Sharp: the distinctions he makes between the beautiful, the agreeable, the good. He defines beauty in terms of the feeling of pleasure, but carefully distinguishes it from the agreeable and the good. The agreeable is pleasure coupled with interest, he says. Again, we do delight in the good, but the good is connected with a concept and with interest, and beauty has to do neither with concepts nor with interest.

Provocative: he finds beauty only in form, which he subdivides into design and play. Colours, for example, and the quality of sounds, are merely charming; they do not pertain to beauty. Again, a man, or a woman, cannot be called beautiful, simply because the human form is linked to a concept of how that form should ideally be...

So Kant is against representational art, or rather, he considers representational art as 'dependent beauty', simply because it is linked to a concept, to something that it should ideally be, to a telos. Non-representational art - music without words is a prime example - is, instead, 'pure beauty', not linked to any concept.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Hume's aesthetics

Yesterday we read Hume in the aesthetics course. What a revelation! Hume in the original proves to be a clear and profound thinker. I had expected him to bandy about the usual "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," and in fact he does begin by noting that there is a variety of tastes. He does admit that taste and sentiment are 'subjective', in the sense that they belong to the subject. Soon, however, he is pointing out that we do naturally seek general or common standards of taste, and he even criticizes 'philosophies which hold that it is impossible to arrive at such standards.'

He seems to be implying that there are certains forms or orders in nature that evoke aesthetic appreciation in us. He also makes a strong plea for common standards of taste. He explains the diversity by a series of external and internal factors: lack of serenity, of focus on the object, of experience, of practice, of delicacy of taste... And he warmly recommends practice: the more one practices, the more one develops delicacy of taste.

De Smet's Sankara studies

Strange: I didn't intend to, but I found myself drawn into beginning work on a second collection of De Smet's essays, with the tentative title, Forward Steps in Sankara Research: Essays by Richard De Smet, SJ.

There is, of course, the experience of working on the first collection. I had already drawn up a list of Sankara essays by De Smet, so I began by writing for permissions, which was, I think, the most delicate and difficult part of the previous work.

OUP has already replied, but they said they preferred dealing directly with the publishers. But MLBD can correspond with them only after I submit my MS to them - which will be another year at least?

The scanning has begun. Unfortunately, the new scanner is a very low level one, and the errors in the text are far more than the Provincial House scanner....

Whatever: the work has begun, and I am excited about it.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

De Smet, Brahman and Person

From one of my jottings:

"Where Zaehner stresses bhakti/love as culmination, De Smet strikes at the root: the Absolute Brahman of Sankara is itself personal! Cf. De Smet, "Indian Understanding of Man" (1970) 10-12.

God's love is the highest integrator. Zaehner.

Educated Indians familiar with Advaita often look down on the God of Christians as Isvara, the lower, qualified, saguna Brahman - see, for example, Radhakrishnan. De Smet: charitably (1) explains 'person'; (2) explains saguna/nirguna (through analogy).

The reading method

The reading method is turning out to be really excellent. We are following the readings on aesthetics from the reader edited by David Cooper, and it is quite amazing how questions come alive by reading the primary sources. The students seem to be enthusiastic. Of course, there is much practical work too: going through the many 'picture books' in our reference library, reporting on paintings, sculpture, architecture, listening to and learning to criticise music, poetry, drama, literature... There is the Wodehouse - Shaw - Shakespeare progression learned from Fr Joe Dhyrianathan, there is Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood read by Richard Burton, there are Urdu ghazals and poetry... and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and our chapels and churches...

There used to be a similar method used in Philosophy of God - learned originally from Lisbert D'Souza, who had come from Oxford with a degree on Wittgenstein.

Could we do something of the sort for Philosophy of Knowing? We might not be able to 'teach' Lonergan as we have been doing so far, but... it might just be worth trying to raise the questions by means of readings from the classical sources, East and West.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Retrieving good work

The last dot (hopefully) was put on the De Smet manuscript yesterday, feast of Blessed Jose Vaz. Wonderful day on which to finish this homage to De Smet, this great effort at retrieving - or is it generating? - the category of person from within Indian thought.

Monday I hope to send the manuscript to the publishers. Gratitude to the countless friends who have helped in one way or another.

And the possibility, of pursuing the work further: "'Retrieving good work': De Smet's generation of the category of 'person' in Indian thought." What would that involve? Apart from De Smet's own work, I guess also a study of Lonergan on person and subject, in order to understand the possibility of transposing the metaphysical category 'person' into an appropriate psychological category; and then using this psychological category to identify/confirm De Smet's own attempt. Indicating further work to be done by way research in Western/Indian thought.

And the question: to which functional specialty would all this belong? Interpretation, I think. But aren't categories generated seminally in dialectic, and with explicit commitment in foundations? True, but then this is the effort of one person to retrieve the work of another person. That effort might eventually lead to dialectic and foundations.