Tuesday, November 6, 2012

what I'm reading

To the end of completing a new article that I've been sketching in rough outline, I've been reading two philosophers again and again: Plato and Bergson.  To this perhaps unlikely combination I would add another strange bedfellow: Arthur Schopenhauer.

I've just finished up a large chunk of research concerning the implicit normative nature of the dynamic-sensible conditions which are responsible for animating "affective" judgments - especially the sort of judgments involved within the domain of ethics.  My goal is to articulate how those judgments relate to ethical (and perhaps even political) Ideas - a physics of the Idea within the domain of ethical theory, really. 

To my mind, Plato and Bergson are a much, much better combination than, say, Aristotle and Leibniz or Lucretius and Spinoza if one is looking to explore the metaphysical foundations of ethics and affectivity, as those combinations (necessarily, it appears) seem to lead one to either a vast competitive powers pluralism or a reactionary ethical materialism of self-serving "dog eat dog" monads.  (N.B.  I must say, however, that Hartshorne's ethical treatment of Leibnizian monads in Whiteheadian vein - that is, as societies of occasions guided by a dominant monarchical monad, is something that I look favorably upon due to my metaphysical commitment to panpsychism and panentheism.  For more information on that see the section "Social Process," HERE.)   

Still, in my research I seemed to be missing one piece of the puzzle that Bergson was pointing to when it comes to discerning the objective "sources" for morality - sources that cannot be reduced to or found within centers of specifically human consciousness.  Enter one Arthur Schopenhauer. 

I first must say that Schopenhauer made his way into my purview most recently when I was writing about Deleuze and aesthetics (the article that I just published for AJTP).  We also read plenty of Schopenhauer this semester as part of a reading group that we just finished up, "Philosophers of the Unconscious: Schelling and Schopenhauer."  And Schopenhauer's aesthetics is just something that I am generally interested in.  So perhaps it was just a matter of time before I turned my attention to his ethics.

I'll leave this endorsement open for the reader: go read Schopenhauer's book on ethics, The Two Fundamental Problems of EthicsThe point is that even though Schopenhauer would seem to endorse a competitive powers ontology where an infinite number of centers of willing strive to live at the expense of other living things, that is hardly the case.  Rather, Schopenhauer explains how, given such a competition, acts of compassion are possible.  Enter a theory of affectivity, in addition an ethical-aesthetic theory conducive to the sort of ethics of openness and compassion purported by Henri Bergson. 

To boot, Schopenhauer's ethics of affectivity knits well with animal ethics; that is, of explaining how genuine acts of compassion are possible among all living beings, not just the human, and so we are urged toward an openness of affectivity and relation "beyond" the human, to human and nonhuman alike.

"Transcendence" thus first means: crossing that limit which encloses the human being.