keskiviikko 28. joulukuuta 2016

François-René de Chateaubriand: Genius of Christianity - Cult

The topic of the last book in Chateaubriand’s apology is supposed to concern the cult of Christianity. In essence, the book divides into two different strands of argument. Firstly, Chateaubriand continues the theme he touched already in the previous book, namely, the experiential side of religion. While in the last book he mentioned the ability of churches to provide human beings with a feeling of infinity, here he emphasizes burial rituals as a way to face the impending reality of death.

This part of Chateaubriand’s argument is probably the most important. Religions interest people, because they offer vivid emotions – the lure of hope, love and self-certainty is rather understandable. Even more interesting are the mystical experiences, like the inexplicable feeling of being filled with divinity. These experiences are certainly not felt by all members of a religious community, but they could be quite important for people who are most ardent followers of some religion.

Even if these strong experiences and emotions are the core of religion, one must still wonder why they should be coupled with any strict dogmas. Even if a religious mystic would describe her experiences through certain concepts that would seem to commit her to some clear dogmas – such as the existence of divinities – there literally would be no need to take these concepts as referring to anything. Chateaubriand’s strongest argument then leads at once to a quite different outcome from what he envisioned – to a notion of religion without any dogmas, that is, to a sort of embracing the mysterious without any need for explaining it with some theories.

Chateaubriand’s second argument concerns more the supposed benefits Christianity has provided in the development of society. One might be a bit skeptical about the beneficence of some of the things Chateaubriand mentions, such as the founding of militaristic religious orders, but some developments, such as the disapproval of infanticide and the abolition of slavery, are clearly positive (although Bible has also been used for justifying the enslavement of Africans). In a manner fitting to a romantic age, he even speculates of the possibility that the spiritual being of humanity would directly cause changes in the material state of both humanity itself and nature in general – barbaric paganism, with the massacre of innocent Christians, caused the destruction of Roman Empire and the spread of atheism might as well destroy Europe. This speculation is, of course, quite unbelievable, but also against the very dogmas of Catholic Christianity – no lesser authority than Augustine stated already that the coming and goings of earthly empires have nothing to do with the fate of the heavenly kingdom.

Chateaubriand’s laudations are probably far from impartial – he ignores all the havoc caused in the name of Christianity and is silent about any positive effects of other religions or Enlightenment. Still, it is true that religions might at least have the potential for good effects – religious experiences might e.g. make people more charitable toward one another. Yet again, we might well ask, firstly, why this religion need be Christianity in particular. Secondly, we might also question whether these beneficent effects should be connected with any religious dogmas at all. Indeed, a religion without dogmas could satisfy the need for more humane society a lot better than any religion with strict dogmas that might always leave out some human beings outside their influence.

keskiviikko 21. joulukuuta 2016

François-René de Chateaubriand: Genius of Christianity – Art and literature

When it comes to art, Chateaubriand's outlook is clearly literary – he has almost nothing to say about fine arts, when compared to his extensive take on poetry. Furthermore, even here we could as well repeat most of the criticism we launched against Chateaubriand's take on poetry. He is especially careful to point out that Christianity provides e.g. good topics for paintings. This appears rather pathetic defense of Christianity, because surely the worth of a painting lies in something else than merely their topic, even if a good topic does make it easier to make an aesthetic impression. Most original is probably Chateaubriand's take on architecture, where he points out how e.g. Gothic churches provide a more concrete experience of infinity than Greek temples.

Chateaubriand's take on literature is not that much better. He divides his topic intro three classes: history, rhetoric and philosophy or science. Of these, we might be quick with the rhetoric. Chateaubriand is especially keen to show that people like Church Fathers were good writers. This is again part of Chateaubriand's general strategy to show that Christianity is especially good religion for producing beauty.

History and science are a different matter. Chateaubriand does have a somewhat antiquated notion of history – it is more a literary effort of describing certain series of actual events in an aesthetic fashion than a research into past events. His defense of Christianity as a source of good histories is rather halfhearted. Chateaubriand merely states that Christian historians have been as proficient as Pagan historians and points out in a familiar manner how the Christian nations have had interesting fates worthy of a historian.

Chateaubriand's plea for the worth of Christianity in case of science and philosophy is the least convincing. In this case, religion either seems like a detriment to the work of scientists and philosophers or then at best apparently contributes nothing to their progress. Chateaubriand relies on name dropping, mentioning all the famous mathematicians, scientists, philosophers etc. who were clearly at least religious in general or even Christian in particular. In case of philosophy, he is especially keen to point out that times of heightened Christianity were those with great philosophers. One is somewhat perplexed that Chateaubriand has then nothing to say about the philosophy of Middle Ages, since that was the time with most Christian and even Catholic philosophers, but is satisfied with such modern names as Leibniz and Clarke. The basic problem is, of course, that Chateaubriand is already evaluating the worth of a philosophic work with lenses of a Catholic Christian.

The most convincing part of the third book of the Genius of Christianity is then the one not mentioned in the title of the book. This part has as its topic what Chateaubriand calls harmonies. In practice, these include, on the one hand, harmonies between religious buildings and nature, and secondly, between religious feasts and human life. The first continues Chateaubriand's interest on architecture. Places of Christian worship are not just capable of connecting us to divinity, he says, but they also exist in harmony with the surrounding nature, and even when they are becoming ruins, they show the power of divinity over the nature. The second topic opens up the discussion to the fourth book, which covers the cult of Christianity. Together, they contains ingredients of most importance in Chateaubriand's book – it is the practice and personal experience that has the greatest ability to make people Christian. This is a topic that I shall deal in more detail in the next post.

tiistai 13. joulukuuta 2016

François-René de Chateaubriand: Genius of Christianity – Christian poetry

In the second part of Genius of Christianity Chateaubriand begins the tactic that will have most repercussions in the history of ideas. Ironically, this inheritance has little to do with philosophy of religion and more with aesthetics, which is in line with the topic of the second part – poetry. While attempting to uphold Christianity, Chateaubriand influenced the romantic movement of literature.

Chateaubriand's tactic plays on many levels, but his main line of offence is simple – Christian poetry simply is better than pagan poetry. Of course, this strategy also fails on many levels. For instance, Chateaubriand fails to take into account all poetry that falls outside either Greek or Jewish influence – there's no mention of e.g. Indian or Chinese poetry.

Chateaubriand suggests, firstly, that Bible itself is somehow deeper and more beautiful poetry than anything produced by Greeks – for instance, Chateaubriand praises the simplicity of the beginning of Genesis story of creation, which with few phrases creates a fantastic image of a world coming into being. One might answer that Homer has his beautiful phrases as well, but the most telling objection to Chateaubriand's tactic is irrelevance – who cares if Bible is more beautiful than Iliad, if we want to know which is truer?

The worth of Chateaubriand's suggestion lies more in his general opinion that all Christian poetry is beautiful. Here he is emphasising especially the usefulness of Christianity – Christian religion has the characteristic of bringing forth more beauty in the world. This is, undoubtedly, more of a pragmatic justification of the practice of believing its tenets, but quite in line with the general stance of Chateaubriand's book.

One might really question the selection of poetic works Chateaubriand takes to be representative of Christian poetry. It is surprising that Dante's Divine Comedy is barely mentioned, while Milton's Paradise Lost is given ample attention. Equally mysterious from modern viewpoint seems the negligence of Shakespeare's literary work and the inclusion of so many French tragedies from authors barely remembered today.

A more interesting line of criticism lies in Chateaubriand's peculiar reason for upholding the greatness of Christian poetry. Chateaubriand appears to say that Christian poetry has a better mixture of characters and topics to use. For instance, Chateaubriand sets the Homeric heros against the knights of the chivalric poetry. While the former are merely self-serving barbarians, the latter fight for a greater cause, namely, the honour of God. Similarly, the Paradise is according to Chateaubriand a mythologically more moral place than Elysian Fields, since getting to former lies not so much in heroics, but in living a good life.

Chateaubriand's argumentation seems here equally shaky. Sure, one could say that Christian poetry deals with more moral topics and has morally better characters. Still, this is no guarantee that a work dealing with such moral matters would itself be aesthetically more worthwhile. We'll see if Chateaubriand's case is more convincing with other arts and literature.

keskiviikko 7. joulukuuta 2016

François-René de Chateaubriand: The Genius of Christianity (1802)

Chateaubriand’s Génie de Christianisme falls into a genre of apologies or defenses of the worth of Christianity, with which the history of Christian philosophy began and which was popular throughout the Middle Ages. But the supposed enemy, from which Chateaubriand tries to defend Christianity, is not the pagan culture of imperial Rome nor is it the competing might of Islam, but a completely new force, namely, the Enlightenment and its criticism of religion. Thus, Chateaubriand appears to think, a completely new kind of apology is required.

Chateaubriand’s apology falls into four books with distinct themes, which I will deal with separately. The first book most resembles a traditional apologetic work in that it tries to defend the dogmas of Christianity. Yet, even here Chateaubriand has more of a pragmatic take on the question, for instance, when he tries to show that compared with other religions, only Christianity has ever had a truly working moral doctrine in Decalogue, or when he speaks in somewhat Kantian tone of a moral necessity of the belief in afterlife.

The true essence of Christianity lies, according to Chateaubriand, in its mysteries, such as Trinity and the story of fall and redemption. These mysteries reveal some deep truths about God and human beings. A common attack against these mystical doctrines had been that they were actually just influences from other religions – for instance, other religions had examples of Trinities, thus, they were not a unique element in Christianity. Chateaubriand’s tactic appears to be in a sense accept these accusations – Trinities occur all around religions, thus, there must be something important in the idea. Then again, he is also quick to point out that these other examples lack some important details which occur only in Christianity and which truly explain the importance of these doctrines.

Chateaubriand does also try his hand with traditional argumentation for the existence of God. Yet, he is quick to dismiss overtly theoretical proofs, or at least he gives one only in end notes. His main line of offence is traditional teleology – Chateaubriand points out the orderliness of the universe and especially the wondrous nature of living beings, which do things that apparently should require the aid of divine forethought (a favourite example of Chateaubriand appears to be the migration of birds and other animals). We know that Chateaubriand is here fighting a loosing battle, since these wonders of nature do have natural explanations. A similar losing battle is going on, when Chateaubriand tries to show that the chronology of the Bible is the most accurate representation of time and that the Biblical events are far more ancient than events in any other holy text.

While this lackluster start wouldn't really make the work into a classic, same cannot really be said about the next book, in which Chateaubriand tries a new tactic.

keskiviikko 9. marraskuuta 2016

François-René de Chateaubriand: Essay on revolutions (1797)


Chateaubriand, especially famous of his influence on the literary movement of romanticism, wrote also some more broadly philosophical writings. The most famous of these, concerning the essence of Christianity, could be said to represent a romantic stance on the philosophy of religion, laying emphasis especially on the aesthetic nature of religious experience. Yet, before we take look at that book, I would like to consider a work Chateaubriand himself later regarded as a juvenile experiment: Essai sur les Révolutions.

The aim of Chateaubriand’s Essay is to understand the forces behind revolutions. We need not wonder the reason for such a work: it is obviously the on-going French Revolution Chateubriand wanted to understand. Yet, he spends relatively little time with the current revolution, since his method is historical – he looks at the great revolutions in ancient Greek and he plans to continue with the Roman and modern European pre-French revolutions, although he later abandoned this project.

Chateaubriand’s main idea is that while the political status of Europe during French Revolution resembles that of Mediterranean during the rebellion against traditional Greek monarchies, its moral status resembles the time of downfall of Greek politeias under the Macedonian rule. We may be quite quick with the first comparison, because even Chateaubriand himself in his more mature period noticed the deficiencies of this approach. The young Chateaubriand drew analogies between the relation of Greece and Persia on the one hand and the relation of France and Holy Roman Empire on the other hand and continued e.g. by comparing Carthage with England and Scythia with Switzerland. Needless to say, these analogies fall apart very quickly – the attempted conquest of Greek city states by Persia had in most likelihood little to do with the rise of democracies, while the war against revolutionary France had a clear ideological basis, not to mention that Greek city states formed no unitary nation unlike France.

Still, if we at least accept the broad analogy of a fledgling and apparently weak democracy pitted against a huge monarchic conglomeration of nations, we can still appreciate Chateaubriand’s questions – will the new French government be able to counter the monarchic backlash and whether it is preferable that it does so? Starting from the latter question, it is surprisingly difficult to find out Chateubriand’s true allegiances in the ideological conflict between democracy and monarchy. Indeed, he was a member of the counterrevolutionary army of emigrants, but this was perhaps more to do with his belief that revolutionary France was no true democracy. Here we can see influence of Rousseau – Chateaubriand holds a legislative assembly of all citizens to be a necessary feature of democracy, while so-called representative democracy is then just a monarchy in disguise or an alliance of smaller democratic republics.

Still, even direct democracy is not the ideal form of state in Chateaubriand’s eyes, paradoxically, because of its lack of freedom – he is apparently thinking of the tradition of ostracism in ancient Athens or the mob trials during the Reign of Terror. Politically, Chateaubriand clearly leans more on the tempered English version of monarchy and not the French absolutism. Yet, sometimes even the English monarchy seems too restrictive for his love of freedom, as he speaks eloquently of the American savages who live in a state of no states in small familial communities.

Chateaubriand does not make the mistake of projecting his ideals to his predictions on the outcome of the Revolutionary Wars. Instead, he bases his estimates again on the example of the battle between Greek city states and Persian empire. What Greeks had and what French revolutionaries lack is a certain moral constitution, which made the Greek men into reliable defenders of their way of life. This moral constitution, Chateaubriand suggest, could be gleamed especially from the philosophers of the period, who all upheld traditional ideals of the city state and polytheistic religion. Then again, when the morality of the people relaxed and philosophers started to speak against both the democratic form of constitution and polytheism (both tendencies might be seen in Plato), the Greek city states fell under the Macedonian rule.

Chateaubriand suggests that the French nation had for long time been in this state of moral degradation. His primary evidence is formed again by the philosophical tendencies of the time – the so-called Enlightened philosophers were all moving toward abolition of traditional Christian monotheism. In this juvenile work Chateaubriand does not suggest that French philosophy should turn its course and start to speak for Christianity. On the contrary, he supposes that the whole Christian clergy is mostly rotten and decadent and that Christianity itself would then fade away. Chateaubriand does suggest the possibility that some form of Enlightement could take the place of religion in the future, but he is more likely to believe that this is all just a premonition of an up-coming time of barbarism, from which a new civilization might then gradually rise again. In his mature phase, Chateaubriand rejects this conclusion with the forceful rejoinder that there are not that much non-civilized areas in the modern world, from which the current civilization could be assaulted. Furthermore, he is far more positive about the strengths of Christianity. We shall see next time how Chateaubriand defended Christianity in his later years.

tiistai 1. marraskuuta 2016

Pierre Jean George Cabanis: On the relations between the physical and moral aspects of man (1802)


Even during the tumults of French Revolution, the French philosophical and scientific culture was thriving, as we’ve seen a while ago with Volney and Condorcet. This time I’ll take a look at a friend of Condorcet, Cabanis, and his seminal work, Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme.

Although the title of the book might suggest a work on ethics, this is far from the case. Instead, morals mentioned mean simply the mores or habits of a human person. In other words, Cabanis is investigating the question, how the two sides of a human being, traditionally marked by the names “body” and “soul”, relate to one another.

In principle, Cabanis has an easy solution – he is a straightforward materialist, and what had been called soul, or the kernel of human behavior, is nothing else but brain. Then again, there are interesting nuances in the materialism of Cabanis. Firstly, Cabanis appears to be a sort of an emergentist. Physical laws reveal one layer of the world, but they cannot by themselves explain the more complex chemical laws, and even more complexity arises on the biological level.

Even if Cabanis appears to deny that the regularities of the more complex level could be reduced to those of a simpler level, he does admit there are certain analogies running throughout the whole system of nature. One might say that there is a certain centralizing tendency, starting from the gravitational forces working between large bodies. Similar centralizing tendency can be seen in chemical combinations, Cabanis adds, but again, with complexities that were not apparent on the lower level. Chemical combinations are elective in the sense that a substance shows more inclination to combine with one reagent than another. Cabanis goes even so far as to suggest that this elective affinity is the first sign of will in nature.

The centralizing tendency gets even more apparent with biological entities, which form clear organic units, in which individual organs interact with one another. The highest pinnacle of this development is an animal organism, in which sensibility is added to life. This sensibility, Cabanis notes, is not restricted to just brains, although it is its center, but can be detected throughout the whole nervous system as an ability to receive affections and react to them.

An interesting aspect in this view of animal organism is the emphasis on the organic unity. Thus, Cabanis criticizes Condillac’s thought experiment of a statue, which receives one sensitive power after another, beginning from smell and going finally through all different senses. Cabanis notes that one cannot really isolate individual senses, because they work in so close co-operation with one another and with the whole organism.

Another interesting aspect is Cabanis’s discussion of the development of moi, or self. He notes that a newborn baby is not a complete tabula rasa. Firstly, it has surely managed to receive certain sensations even in the womb, of course of its own internal condition, but also of the world outside, through voices vibrating to its ears. Although these sensations must have been quite muddled and soon their memories are overcome by more vivid sensations, they have been there. Secondly, the newborn also comes with some instincts, probably caused by the centralizing tendency. Thus, a baby is already bent on conserving itself and feeding itself with nourishment given to it. Especially interesting is one of these instincts, namely, the instinct to move. Through moving the body, the brain becomes volitional and gets a sense of its own self.

Even though it has a will of its own, brain is still affected by the body around it and its constitution – change the muscular structure a bit and it becomes more difficult for the brain to move itself around. The effects of the constitution to the brain form different personality types – a baggage, which Cabanis inherits from traditional medicine and only slightly alters by adding two further unnamed types to the traditional four (melancholic, sanguine, choleric and phlegmatic).

Cabanis goes so far in insisting on correspondence between bodily constitution and personality that he of necessity must also find a clear difference between male and female personalities. His descriptions of women as frivolous creatures with no patience to conduct proper scientific studies sound more like cultural roles extended without any justification to the whole humanity. At least Cabanis is willing to admit that not all women fall under the stereotype – that is, if they have a rare physical constitution.

Cabanis does not fortunately state that the rare constitution of manly women would be an illness. He does acknowledge that real diseases can, through affecting body, affect also personality. Indeed, all effects of the environment can have an effect on our constitution and personality, especially those that come through senses – for instance, a certain odour might invigorate us. Particularly forceful effects are caused by climate, which we are in contact with daily. In a somewhat Lamarckian fashion, Cabanis thinks that all these effects can be inherited by the next generation. And because climate will have the same effect on the next generation, this will eventually lead to clear differences between various types of same species in different continents – thus Cabanis explains also the supposed racial differences in human species.

Although the majority of the book is dedicated to the influence of external surroundings to personality or brain, Cabanis does admit that the causality can go the other way also – after all, brain is a part of the material world and can affect it on its part. This suggests to Cabanis the possibility of affecting one’s own constitution and hence also one’s personality. Although this is no true book on ethics, some phrases indicate, to which direction Cabanis wished to develop humankind – to a vigorous harmony, in which all capacities of human personality are used to their utmost.

tiistai 9. elokuuta 2016

James Mackintosh: Discourse on the Study of Law of Nature and Nations (1802)


Law of nature and nations (or in Latin, ius natura et gentium) is something I have had more occasion to deal with in my German Idealism blog, as the topic was one interesting many pre-Kantian philosophers in Germany. Indeed, Mackintosh himself mentions Christian Wolff as one of his predecessors, although he doesn't have much to say about him – Wolff is mostly, he says, just a follower of Samuel Pufendorff.

Mackintosh's short essay is not meant to be more than an introduction to his lectures on the topic. Thus, he is not able to give more than a history and an outline of the issues involved in law of nature. Even the short history is of a philosophical interest. Mackintosh states that most of what he would present in his lectures is not novel, and indeed, much of it has been revealed by ancient philosophers, like Aristotle and Cicero.

Yet, what modern philosophers have been able to add to these ancient truths is justification. While Aristotle had merely accepted some moral certainties, modern philosophers have at least tried to base them something else. This foundational ground of law of nature, according to Mackintosh, is metaphysics, by which he apparently means study of human nature. We don't have Mackintosh's actual account of human nature, but his general idea accords with the strategy held by previous theories of law of nature – what humans should do is based on an account of the supposedly fixed and immutable essence or nature of humanity, which thus gives infallible knowledge on the best of humanity.

Indeed, we can at once see that this emphasis on the metaphysical grounding of ethics is meant to work as a sort of defense of traditional morality. Mackintosh especially picks out two institutions that had become an object of criticism lately: marriage and private property. These two instances form a clear example of the problems the idea of an immutable law of nature would face these days. Mackintoch admits that property and marriage are institutions with a history, still, he wants to say there's a clear standard according to which the most modern forms of these institutions are better than the earlier forms. Furthermore, he goes even so far as to suggest that particularly with marriage, no further development is possible, because the development in the equality of men and women has a natural limit – Mackintosh is here clearly supposing that these two genders again have some natural essence that cannot be breached. What Mackintosh does not answer in this short introductory essay is the question whether humanity might not be historically determined species, that is, that there might be no immutable essence of humanity, at least not in a strong sense required for basing a universal system of morality.

Moving on from private ethics to public politics, Mackintosh immediately speaks against the fiction of an original social contract, which he deems leads either to highest despotism (in Hobbes) or to highest anarchy (in Rousseau). Instead, he returns to the Aristotelian notion of humans as essentially social animals – human beings have always existed in some type of communities. By this method, Mackintosh can outright assume that humans have mutual obligations toward one another. He also clearly favours the conservative notion of a slow development of communities and their constitutions and denies the possibility of making up a good constitution in a fortnight. Yet, his ideal of a state is not medieval, such as we've seen with some French conservative thinkers. Instead, Mackintosch thinks that the purpose of state is to guarantee the liberty of citizens, that is, making them free of all disturbances, including those instilled by governors. It is then no wonder that Mackintosh especially congratulates the English constitution.

We might find it strange that an account of ethics and internal politics should be combined with an account of what we would call international affairs and what Mackintosh still calls law of nations (he does know the word ”international”, which had been recently coined). Yet, in a sense this does make sense – nations could be regarded as individuals, and indeed, they usually were represented by individuals or monarchs at the time of Mackintosh. We don't get much information on what Mackintosh would have lectured about the international law, but he appears to believe that all intercourse between nations presupposes some general rules. Still, he does admit that one can again develop the international affairs, especially through diplomatic pacts, and he seems to believe current Europe to be the highest point in the history of international affairs.

torstai 4. elokuuta 2016

Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)


Out of all figures I’ve thus far investigated in my blog, Malthus appears most current. Population of the world has been rising almost exponentially during the last century, and especially the Third World has suffered from this. When a superpower like China has felt forced to use such drastic measures as their former one-child-only policy, we can truly speak of a global issue.

Behind Malthus’s work lies a simple consideration. He notes that without any restraints, population would rise in a geometrical progression – if a family would have in average, say, three children, the children of this average family would have around nine children, these children would then produce 27 children and so on. This is of course a very rough estimate, but we can accept at least that the rate of reproduction would be quite high.

Now, Malthus noticed that population of his time did not show as great tendency of continuous growth, although such leaps might happen sporadically. The natural conclusion was that something restrained this growth. Malthus surmised quite naturally that it was the limited number of resources and especially food, which constrained continuous population growth. True, more people could produce more food, but the growth happened, Malthus stated, only in arithmetical progression. Malthus really had no reason to suppose that the food supply would grow in arithmetical progression, but the important point was more that the growth of food production would eventually fall greatly short of the growth of population.

What is especially interesting in Malthus’s account is his idea of the actual mechanics by which the limitedness of food supplies affects the population growth. One means Malthus indicates is misery. If there are more mouths to feed, but not that much more food to give them, people will not get as much to eat as earlier. This leads to malnutrition, diseases and ailments caused by it, and in the most extreme case, to starvation. After a while, the population will have lowered to a level, when the worst effects of misery subside – and the population starts to grow again in the more favourable conditions.

Malthus’s view of this cycle of hunger and reproduction battling one another is quite bleak, but what to do, he says, it is just a law of nature (a common excuse from people who notice a problem, but won’t do anything about it). Indeed, Malthus goes at some point even so far as to suggest that any attempt of a society to regulate this cycle is doomed to failure – if you try to give the poor something to eat, they’ll just reproduce even more and the problem is created anew. With the optimism of an English clergyman, Malthus supposes that it is all just God’s plan to awaken some moral sense in humans – when we see suffering around us, we’ll start to feel pity – and that all will be made better in the afterlife.

Malthus’s conservative stance is especially striking in his attitude toward the second check of population growth. Malthus calls this check vice, but it is pretty evident he is especially thinking of all sorts of sexual acts that do not lead to reproduction. One might think allowing this sort of “vice” would be at least a partial answer to Malthusian problematic. Indeed, it has usually been the drive for sexual pleasure and not the more ephemeral drive for reproduction that has led to unrestricted population growth – people who desire children of their own tend to desire them in some limited amount, while the desire for sexual pleasure might well exceed any assigned limits. At least we can be happy that Malthus accepts the latter need as a fact of human nature and quickly crushes all hopes of humankind ever getting rid of sexual needs. Indeed, he even quite beautifully describes an ideal marriage as a state in which highest sensual gratification is combined with social virtues, like companionship.

In a later edition Malthus introduced a third check of population growth, and this time one he regarded positively: a custom that people (and especially men) should not marry, before they have the means to provide for their family. Firstly, we might notice that Malthus never imagined this as a law, although he suggested government might give a negative incitement for it by not giving charities to poor families with lot of children. Indeed, this suggested custom is another aspect of Malthus’s idea that this world has been given to us as a place for moral growth – what better way to show one’s morality than to silence one’s desires until one can care for all their consequences?

Furthermore, Malthus’s old-fashioned morals appear in this suggestion even more prominently. Surely one can have children even out of wedlock, but this is something Malthus condemns forcefully. What is even more disturbing is the indication that marriage is a state in which reproduction is an unavoidable fact, and in a sense, even a duty. Indeed, Malthus’s view can be understood only if the person with the most to lose in child rearing – the woman, who will carry all the babies – has an obligation to always accept his husband’s wish for an intercourse. One just has to wonder what Malthus would have thought of families actually planning when and even whether to have children.

tiistai 2. elokuuta 2016

Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald – Theory of political and religious power in civil society demonstrated by reasoning and history (1796)


We've looked at few examples of liberal political thinkers, who have believed in the possibility to consciously and rationally plan the human societies and thus make further progress in human condition. One result of French Revolution was the emergence of an ideology opposed to such liberal philosophies – one that aimed for restoration and conservation of traditional societies. One example of this conservative ideology was de Bonald's Theorie du Pouvoir Politique et Religieux dans la Societe Civile Demontree par le Raisonnement et l'Histoire.

De Bonald's idea of a good society is based on his notion of human beings as essentially dual persons, with intertwined physical and mental or spiritual aspects. Thus, he divides human societies into two kinds: political, in which the physical aspect preponderates, and religious, in which spiritual aspect preponderates. Although these societies have their differences, because they serve essentially different ends, more interesting are the analogies and similarities de Bonald finds between the two societies.

The first important element in de Bonald's view of societies in general is that he believes societies to naturally incline to some necessary, lawful customs. These customs might vary from one society to another, just because the people in these societies are different (de Bonald appears to suggest that this difference is more due to heritage than environment of the people). The customs or laws represent the true universal will of that society – they are not willed by the collection of the individual persons, but in a sense, by the organic unity formed by the interaction of these persons.

The purpose of both political and religious powers is then to conserve these natural laws, de Bonald says. In essence, no progress is required, once the society has found its natural course, and all that is required is that the conservation should happen as efficiently as possible. This requires then that the conserving force of the society must be as great as possible and embodied in one individual: pope, in the case of religious society (or actually God, but even he must have a single representative on worldly plane), and monarch, in the case of political society.

Of course, this monarchic constitution is not meant to be despotism based on mere whims of one person – monarch does not so much make laws that suit him, but just defends existing laws. He does need executive power to effect his role and thus arises the need for various people that help the monarch (priests in case of religious society and nobility in case of political society). Hence, de Bonald explains the necessity of the two estates, while the third estate seems to him a mere afterthought and not an essential requirement of a good society.

It is then no wonder that it is the medieval France which de Bonald holds to be an epitome of a good society. He is quite certain that monarchic France has never really aimed at anything else, but preserving status quo both internally and externally – the only exception he accepts is Louis XIV, although even he could only round French territory with few natural additions. It appears de Bonald has completely forgotten that kings of France had over the centuries engaged in various internal and external conflicts, stealing power from the nobles of their own land, attempting to conquer territories in Europe and in other continents and even attacking the pope, leader of the faith they supposedly also protected.

In contrast to monarchic France, the ideal of all liberals or the constitution of England is seen in an ambiguous light. De Bonald suggests that while usually in monarchies powers cannot and shouldn't be divided, England makes an exception, because it is not an organic unity, but a combination of two societies. One of them is a regular monarchy, while the other is a society of commerce, represented by the parliament. De Bonald is quick to point out that this combination is quite volatile – economical progress makes conserving the traditional feudalistic society difficult.

The worst kind of society in de Bonald's eyes is one that is set up not on any necessary laws, but on arbitrary decisions of individuals – no matter whether of a single individual (in despotism) or of a supposed combination of all individuals (in republic). De Bonald insists especially that a mere vote is not sufficient for finding out Rousseau's ”general will”. The biggest problem for de Bonald is that republic can never really take into account will of every individual, but its decisions always represent the interests of only one faction. In a somewhat tendentious fashion, de Bonald suggests that republics have a habit of starting wars with other countries, that internally they are in danger of slipping into pure anarchy and that from a religious aspect they fall to atheism.

keskiviikko 27. heinäkuuta 2016

Thomas Paine: The Age of Reason (1794, 1795 and 1807)

Thomas Paine (1736-1809)

We return from France to America, to yet another of the Founding Fathers of the United States, only to quickly return to France. Thomas Paine had a hand in two revolutions, being also a member of the revolutionary Convent. As a foreigner and a known ally of a moderate republican Girondin movement, he was imprisoned, when the radicals led by Robespierre had managed to take control of the government. While in prison, Paine wrote the first part of his The Age of Reason, a book investigating Christian religion from the standpoint of Deism.

After being salvaged from impending death by the execution of Robespierre, Paine added two further parts to the book. In the prison cell, he had had no Bible to check, and the final parts are meant to accommodate for that fault: Paine goes painstakingly through various books of the Bible, finding out evidence suggesting that the book is not a work of divine revelation.

Paine's primary strategy is to point out internal incoherencies – Moses couldn't have written the first books of the Bible, because he dies before the end of the book, supposed prophecies pointing to the coming of Christ were actually related to ancient affairs of Jews and their kingdoms etc. Although this part of Paine's book was quite relevant when it appeared, it seems trite nowadays, since no one in his right mind takes Bible as a literal source of history. Of course Bible has it inconsistencies – just the existence of two different creation stories belies this. But far more interesting than such biblical nitpicking is to ask why these stories, with all their inconsistencies, have been able to cause a feeling of divinity in their readers.

A more interesting avenue of criticism lies in Paine's discussion of dreams – or the criticism itself is again quite trite (dreams of a person are no proper testimony, and even if God would have used them to reveal his will to people, this power of revelation would only hold for those who had the vision), but the machinery behind this criticism is interesting. Paine sets out an intricate picture of human mind. The driving force of mind is imagination, Paine says, and its activities are recorded by memory and regulated by judgement. Imagination works always, but memory and judgement often rest during sleep. When memory is not working, we don't have any recollection of what we have thought. When memory is working, but judgement is not, we are dreaming.

In addition to incoherence, Paine criticized the supposed immorality of Bible. Lot of this criticism is undoubtedly to the point – stories of ancient Israelites killing innocent babies are cruel. Still, Paine's disdain is also at times difficult to understand. Thus, Paine thinks that the idea of God forgiving sins would be detrimental to morality, because bad deeds would not then be punished in any way. Yet, one might say that at least in some cases true repentance is an acceptable option for external punishment.

Another part of Paine's crusade against the impious Bible is his insistence that the biblical notion of immortality is crass. Christianity speaks of bodily resurrection, but, Paine suggests, a body similar to our current body would just wind out just as our current bodies. Thus, he concludes, immortality must mean change into a completely different, more perfect plane of living. Paradoxically, Christian notion of immortality is then denied by Paine because it is too materialistic – a reason why it was easy for Christian philosophers to accept Aristotelian notion of soul.

After having thrown away all of Bible, Paine directs his reader to the true revelation of God, that is, nature. There is not much original in Paine's naturalistic theology, but we might notice one curious detail in it, namely, Paine's attitude towards mathematics. It appears that Paine thinks even mathematical truths were designed and chosen by God. Thus, mathematics becomes one of the natural sciences, because e.g. the relationships of different triangles are in Paine's eyes evidence for God's existence.

keskiviikko 13. heinäkuuta 2016

Marquis de Condorcet: Historical picture of the progress of human spirit (1795)

Condorcet (1743-1794)

At least after World Wars, any talk of inevitable progress in history seems out of place – every apparent step forward appears to have led to even more horrible atrocities. Yet, the notion of progress seemed so natural for over a century that it should be seriously considered, even if the idea feels naive these days.

Condorcet's Tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain is as infatuated with the idea of progression as a book can be. Its picture of human history is not a straightforward line of progression, because Condorcet does accept that the development of humanity could stop from time to time – for instance, in quite a traditional fashion, Condorcet paints Middle Ages as a time of cultural stagnation and even decay. Still, the main theme of Condorcet's work is one of on-going development.

Condorcet begins from pre-historical times. Of course, he lived in time, when no reliable knowledge of the early development of humanity was available and he was thus forced to speculate on many important questions. Yet, he did raise a central question – why did particularly human beings gain the power to form huge civilisations? Condorcet notes some peculiarities in the physical form of humans – e.g. two hands give them advantage in forming tools. But the most important element explaining the rise of human kind was language, Condorcet says.

An important early invention was agriculture, which helped to sustain human life and allowed people to gather into large collections. This centralisation of human population is not just pure development, Condorcet says, because it also led to centralisation of wealth and power. More remote offspring of this current is warfare – it makes no sense to conquer a roving band of hunter-gatherers, but it is possible to conquer villages and towns. Such conquests led to even further imbalance in society, since the conquering class of people usually received more rights than the people conquered.

One major theme in Condorcet's writing – and indeed, in whole Enlightenment – is the supposed deviousness of clergy. Clerics had power, because they had some important knowledge, for instance, about movement of stars and about proper times for planting seeds. Clergy also had the access to alphabets, early versions of which were often cumbersome to read and write. Although holders of knowledge, priests also mixed truths with errors and even outright lies, which helped them to control the human population.

Condorcet's rather fanciful conspiracy theory sets the tone for the rest of the book. Greeks began the process of liberating reason from superstition, but because they couldn't obliterate the power of priests and other tyrants, the progress was halted and continued only in renaissance. Condorcet emphasises especially the development of science at the beginning of modern age, but also the invention of printing press, which kept truth alive, even under censure. Then final phase of the human development begins then with the American and French Revolutions, which helped to eradicate final social inequalities.

It is especially Condorcet's speculation of the future of humankind, which interests us. It comes as no surprise that Condorcet believes in even further progression, which could be forestalled only by a barbarian invasion. I already noted that Condorcet believed that French revolution had resulted in destruction of all privileges traditionally given to some class of people. Condorcet went even so far as to suppose that in the new society even the genders would have equal status. This does not mean that Condorcet would have held the idea that women could be as valuable as men in society. Especially in case of mathematical sciences, Condorcet believed that females could never obtain the highest rank of a creative genius – a common presupposition of his day.

Condorcet also didn't think that all inequality could be eradicated forever, because he supposed people to have different natural talents, which inevitably leads to e.g. differences in wealth. Yet, like any student of Adam Smith, Condorcet appears to have believed that a kind of invisible hand would keep economy balanced and fair, as long as all traditional privileges were cancelled.

We might ask if Condorcet's hope of diminishing inequality could be nothing but a phantom, if he was not willing to give the state any power to regulate the economy. Yet, Condorcet puts all his chips on education – a very Enlightenment-like move. Apparently all that is enough is just teaching everyone to look things from a more general perspective and especially making them learn probability calculus. Armed with this tool, a person could just calculate her chances of getting any profit from some actions – and by seeing, for instance, that potential punishments overcame all possible benefits of a crime, anyone would be convinced of not committing a crime.

We are starting to see the weak side of Condorcet's science fiction, that is, blind reliance on the powers of human reason. It is fantastic to think that everyone could become a master calculator, able and willing to use mathematics for finding out the best course of action. Yet, even if such a fabulous discipline could really exist in any but quite rudimentary fashion, we might still be skeptical of everyone actually using such a behavorial calculus – and having the strength of will to follow its advice, even against strong temptations.

Similar naivety occurs also in Condorcet's notion of international politics: he believes that the value of commerce would inevitably lead to a time of peace, since in the new liberated phase of human history no country would in the long run benefit from a war. Still, Condorcet does allow patriotism, and indeed, believes it to be a necessary part of the life of a good citizen – one must love one's country and all its denizens. Again quite naively, Condorcet thinks that in a good society, patriotism cannot be in conflict with cosmopolitan and open attitude toward other nations.

maanantai 20. kesäkuuta 2016

Mary Wollstonecraft: A vindication of the rights of woman (1792)

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Works that begin some field of study or movement are sometimes quite different from what works belonging to that field or movement generally are. Development of such fields and movements leads often to some idiosyncracies, which weren't discernible in the seminal works. Thus, it is no wonder that the major work of the supposed founder of feminism May Wollstonecraft, feels often quite alien in its tone, when compared to later feminist works.

The feeling of strangeness is especially prominent, when one thinks about the goal and purpose of the Vindication. Historically, feminism is famous for advocating rights of women. On the contrary, Wollstonecraft's book is less about right and more about duty. True, she does speak for giving women more rights, but she justifies this demand by noticing that more rights would make women more useful in the society – classic argument, hailing all the way from Plato. Furthermore, Wollstonecraft is also willing to accept the possibility that women have even naturally inferior intellectual skills – she just wants to point out that their inferiority is no reason for not developing them.

From these quite non-feminist or even antifeminist principles Wollstonecraft develops more progressive ideas, which often seem quite self-evident these days – or at least, they should seem. Education should be provided to all children – preferably, by communities – and particularly girls should not be left without any intellectual stimulus. Furthermore, girls should be allowed to run and play, because exercise improves physical vigour, which is also required for learning. And last, but not least, women should have an equal status in society with men, they should be able and even demanded to work for their living, and if they happen to marry, they should not be held as mere appendages of their husbands.

Although all these ideas seem so evident to us – and most likely seemed quite radical back in the day – Wollstonecraft's duty-centric viewpoint gives them a peculiar light. Wollstonecraft's starting point is the prevailing picture of women as irrational beings who follow their instinct and fancy and who are governed by sensibility. Wollstonecraft's thesis is that these supposed peculiarities of woman nature are just results of their upbringing – if women are not given anything other to care about than their outward appearance, they won't in the end care about anything else.

What Wollstonecraft shares with the writers she criticizes is the idea that in their current state women simply are inferior – although she is careful to emphasize that this inferiority is not to be blamed on the women or their nature. Wollstonecraft holds the old idea that certain lifestyle, which might be called sensual, has a lower than value than a lifestyle that is supposedly based on reason. In other words, when women think of nothing but making themselves beautiful, Wollstonecraft implies, they are not just wasting their skills, but they are wasting their whole lives and even living badly.

To be fair, Wollstonecraft's criticism is not in any sense gender-specific. Indeed, she is quite willing to condemn men who live in the same manner. In fact, she suggests that both soldiers and nobility often resemble women in their behaviour – soldiers learn to not think and to just look good in their uniforms, while noblemen are spoiled and pampered and therefore fail to become dutiful citizens. Still, it appears quite surprising that Wollstonecraft would go so far in expressing the inferiority of a certain lifestyle, when modern feminism is more about liberating everyone, no matter what their gender, and letting them decide their lifestyles for themselves, without any explicit or implicit pressure to behave in a certain manner. Yet, Wollstonecraft just is a child of her times – after all, the urge to educate humankind to supposedly better lifestyle was quite an established idea, again, at least since the time of Plato.

Wollstonecraft shows her reliance on tradition also in her motives for emphasizing duties. True, she admits, if we would only live this one life, there would be no reason to condemn a life of sensibility and everyone would have the right to increase the amount of pleasures they experience. Indeed, she appears to say, in this case even men would have no reason to let women live up to their potential, because they would get more pleasure out of women in their childlike condition. But, Wollstonecraft points out, this is not the only life we'll live, since God has destined us to another life beyond death. Thus, behind Wollstonecraft's feminism lies a religious mindset.

Even with these peculiarities, Wollstonecraft's work is a milestone in history of thinking. Rarely before this was the state of women considered in such a reasonable fashion, and while the suggested improvements were at first ridiculed, they did eventually lead to positive social developments – what more could we ask of a philosopher?

maanantai 2. toukokuuta 2016

Comte de Volney: Ruines or meditations on revolutions of empires (1791) and Natural law or catechism of French citizen (1793)

Comte de Volney (1757-1820)

It has been said that at the end of 18th century two culturally important transitions occurred. One was the appearance of Kant's first Critique, the second was French Revolution. Although these events occurred in very different fields, both did shatter some truths that were long held to be incontrovertible.

While the first of these events is clearly philosophical, it might seem difficult to find any philosophy in the latter. True, there were philosophical inspirations for the revolution, especially in the earlier French Enlightenment, but if one believes elementary introductions to philosophy, it all disappeared when political tumult began.

Yet, there were philosophical writings appearing during the French Revolution and written by French persons. Writings of de Volney could be said to embody many of the themes of the revolution. Indeed, Les Ruines Ou Méditations Sur Les Révolutions Des Empires is a clear homage to French revolution. Volney's book commences with the author meeting a spirit, which allows him to view Earth, as it were a distant planet watched through an enormously powerful telescope. The spirit shows the author how states were born – it is the old theory of social contract, with people joining together, because life in natural state was too filled with dangers (especially those posed by fellow human beings).

In original societies all people were equal, Volney says, but then some people begun to gather power and form an aristocracy, or if they based their power on supposed divine ordinance, a theocracy. At the end of this development are monarchies, which are often founded by people raising one person above others in order to protect themselves from the aristocrats. It is just this division of classes that makes societies weak, Volney suggests. When majority have no say in the affairs of state, they have no motivation to defend it against external aggressors. Of course, conquest means just change of one oppressor to another.

Volney also suggests a solution to this seemingly never-ending cycle of empires rising and falling. When people are enlightened, they finally grow weary of their rulers and throw them away. Clearly referring to French Revolution, Volney tells a tale of a great Western nation removing the shackles of upper classes and giving the power to the whole people.

But revolution in one country is not enough for Volney, who desires freedom for the whole globe. What Volney finds most hindering such a universal revolution are the cultural and especially religious differences – people are lured to obey the rulers by priests, who say they hold the only access to truth. Volney lets the different religions fight with themselves and shows how all of them contain details that are held to be absurd by proponents of other religions. He also launches a common anthropological attack against all religions. Religion, Volney says, begun when people thought natural phenomena like thunder or rain were living beings that could be persuaded by gifts and prayers. Especially astronomical knowledge and moral notions developed religion into forms we know nowadays, and indeed, all religions hail from the same source. Thus, Christian story of Easter still shows influence of ancient idea of bad god of winter being banished by good god of summer.

Yet, Volney does not ascribe to atheism, but seems to uphold some form of deism, in which inexplicable force has created the world around us. Indeed, in his La loi naturelle ou Catéchisme du Citoyen français Volney suggests that this God created also the natural morality. It seems no wonder that Volney sees no difference between a law of gravity and a law of morality – both are just the way how God created the world to be like. Thus, moral law is inscribed in human heart, particularly in the pleasures and pains, which are in Volney's opinion a sure guide for good behaviour. True, Volney knows that one might lose one's health, if one is too interested of some sort of pleasure, but this excess is shown just by pains caused by such overindulgence – and it is surely no reason to go to other extremity and avoid all pleasures altogether. The true end of moral law, Volney says, is always conserving oneself. This does not mean egoism, Volney says, because human beings are naturally social and want to live in good and just societies.

I should probably note the naivete of Volney's thought and cynically remind everyone that e.g. removal of religions would most likely not remove the borders between states. Still, I find the energy and passion of his works quite refreshing. These were still times, when the idea of a progression of culture was still somewhat new and when it appeared quite believable that a sudden removal of few kings would bring the paradise on Earth. Dream of a better humanity is something we would still need today.

torstai 21. huhtikuuta 2016

Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin: Natural image of connections uniting God, human and universe (1782)

I have already presented an overview of one of Saint-Martin's works, so I need not be overtly thorough with describing his philosophical theories – to put it shortly, his philosophy is a form of religious mysticism, in which human beings reside in a fallen state, in which their original unity with divinity has been broken.

What is new in Tableau naturel des rapports qui unissent Dieu, l'Homme et l'Univers is the idea of mythologies in general as an expression of important metaphysical truths. This is in itself not that much of a novelty, since the idea has been part of philosopher's tool kit at least since the time of Neo-Platonists and first Christian thinkers.

Yet, what one might find interesting is the range of mythologies Saint-Martin considers – he mentions details at least from Greek, Egyptian, Native American and Chinese mythologies. In his thoroughness, Sain-Martin precedes similar considerations in German idealism. What Saint-Martin is mostly after is commonalities. These range from such description of physical events as the flood to such central ingredients of Saint-Martin's own philosophy as the fall of human beings.

But Saint-Martin shows himself to lie in the great tradition of Western thinkers by emphasising one mythology over the others – that is, the Jewish mythology embodies in the old testament. With painstaking thoroughness, he goes through almost all of the Old Testament, and this study forms then the major part of his book. He even follows the quaint tradition that Hebrew was the oldest language in the world and tries to e.g. interpret names from Chinese mythology through similar sounding words in Hebrew. Of course, here Saint-Martin is again quite close to German idealists, who often thought that Christianity was still the highest religion of them all.

So much for Saint-Martin's turn towards mythologies. Next time, we shall be introduced to work of another Frenchman.

keskiviikko 2. maaliskuuta 2016

Bentham: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789)

Jeremy Bentham (1747-1832)

Morals and jurisprudence are quite a different thing, one might imagine, and indeed, at least after Kant and his definite separation of the two, this might well be true. Yet, one must not forget that Kant's division of these disciplines was rooted in a context, in which the two were thought to be intimately connected. Before Kant, one might read books about natural law, which was the ground and basis of both jurisprudence and morals – natural law, ordained by God or reason or nature or all of them, was an ideal that all civil laws should follow, even though they might add some more laws to keep the wheels of civil society running and even though natural law demanded things that no civil authority had the power to control. Indeed, one might even think that Kant himself did not distance himself too far from that context, although he made a far sharper distinction between the two disciplines than earlier philosophers.

Thus, it is no wonder then that Bentham wants to introduce at common principle for both morals and jurisprudence. The two disciplines just have different fields of application, Bentham says. Juriprudence deals with behaviour that civil society can control, but when behaviour exceeds those limits, there's only morals to rely on. Bentham is especially speaking of punishments, which was the original topic of the book – if it would be too costly and difficult to apprehend all people taking part in some behaviour conceived unacceptable, then at least moralists can speak against it. Morals become then more like an afterthought or a last minute resort, while the true interest of the book lies in legislation.

Legislation, Bentham says, consists usually of two parts. Well, he admits, there's also the so-called constitution, but this is not clearly important for Bentham. At best, constitution just states who are the people who have the authority to enforce law. At worst, it is just a collection of declarations, which appear to give unrestricted rights to people, which the later law then restricts – people are born free, but then law might demand restrictions on some people's liberties.

The mass of the law consists of expository material and definitions required to understand what the laws are all about – by copyright is meant this and that. The core of the law then consists of imperatives – you should follow the copyright – and for each imperative, there should be a distinct punishment, Bentham says – if you impeach the copyright, you shall be fined. The latter statement might be questioned, at least on some definitions of punishments, because there are laws denying something, but not assigning any punishments. Such laws without punishments might still, for instance, give a law enforcer a right to stop anyone from acting in some manner (cycling around with a helmet is forbidden in such a sense in Finland).

The bulk of Bentham's book consists then of divisions of possible ways of misconduct, which might be forbidden by law. The basic method of classification for Bentham is founded on the fact, who or what set of persons bears the bad consequences of misconduct. Bentham suggests four possibilities: the consequences might affect the person itself, some other individual, some small set of people or the whole community.

What is remarkable in Bentham's division is the fact how little intentionality of the actions bears on identifying something as misconduct. True, some form of intentionality is a necessary condition for something being punishable – a person who drops a stone on the head of a man walking below accidentally or out of ignorance is not culpable. Yet, even the inclusion of certain crimes in his classification shows that intetionality is not a very central concern of Bentham's. For instance, a person who eats and drinks too much might not have any intention of hurting oneself, yet, Bentham considers that it still forms an offence, because one ought to know better and see how bad the consequences are.

A clear criterion for taking some action as bad, for Bentham, is then the set of consequences following from that action. Bentham is here going especially against theories of natural law, in which good and bad actions were decided more by their concordance with some law. Bentham suggests that the real reason guiding these theories is just an antipathy or sympathy one feels towards some actions – philosophers speak about natural law, but actually just reveal their own likes and dislikes. The same criticism appears to go against all deontological theories, which take goodness and badness to be an intrinsic property of actions, despite their consequences. Bentham's attitude appears rather unfair – he doesn't understand what such a theory is all about, thus, he concludes that it is just an arbitrary decision of what is good or bad.

We might briefly consider what Bentham would say to a virtue theory, which bases the essence of ethics to individual's character instead of actions and their consequences. Firstly, it is undoubtedly difficult to base a system of jurisprudence on virtue theory (we don't usually punish people, because of their characters), and as jurisprudence is far more interesting topic to Bentham than ethics, he would have little motive to entertain virtue theory. Furthermore, Bentham appears to think that character is essentially just a fiction describing the tendency of a person to act in certain manner, where the tendency is merely a generalisation out of all past actions of a person.

Bentham is then a devoted consequentialist, and he considers two species of it: either one thinks pleasures are to be sought out and pleasures abandoned or the other way around. The latter principle – the principle of asceticism – is something Bentham ridicules a lot. It is an apparent caricature of Stoic and Christian ideals – surely these two do not aim for pain for its own sake, but for pleasures of a higher sort.

Bentham's preferred theory is then utilitarianism – the worth of an action is decided by the pleasure and the pain it engenders. One must say that there are certain problems in this suggestion, especially when it is applied to jurisprudence. Bentham appears to say that in jurisprudence we should particularly look at the consequences of an action for all citizens of a society. Now, among pleasures and pains Bentham considers are such emotions like security and fear. If then the majority will experience fear and anxiety over some plausible consequences of person's actions, these actions are to be condemned bad. Then again, if a person does not marry a person of another gender and beget children – perhaps because she has vowed herself for abstinence, or perhaps because she would instead want to marry someone of the same gender – this will make the country weaker on the long run, because not as many children are born as could be. Bentham then concludes that sexual relationships incapable of begetting children and even abstinence are both condemnable, even if something where the actual punishment must be left for morals.

I find Bentham's reasoning here somewhat questionable, since its result breaches certain inalienable rights of human beings, namely, their right to determine their own sexuality. Of course, Bentham has already said law shouldn't recognise any inalienable rights, but all things should be guided by the pleasure of the majority, without any concern for the welfare of minorities. Admittedly, this is all quite in line with Bentham's utilitarianism, but this just makes me question, whether utilitarianism, at least in Bentham's style, is a proper principle of either ethics or jurisprudence.

maanantai 4. tammikuuta 2016

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

It is a question raised in recent years, whether liberalism, that supposed liberator of humankind, has actually been tainted with a foul crime to humanity – I am speaking, of course, about the slavery. Many leading liberalist thinkers, like John Locke, wrote in favour of enslavement of black Africans, and especially on the western side of Atlantic, they even owned slaves. This involves a complex line of ideas that I cannot follow here, but the basic question appears to be whether the liberation of one class of humans from traditional restrictions of religious morality and the establishment of first capitalist systems might somehow have worsened the state of the people used by this enlightened persons as their household equipment.

Thomas Jefferson apparently is one of the most contradictory persons in this context: one of the largest slave holder in the country, yet, denied the right to import slaves to United States, yet, did nothing to discourage the local slave trades, yet, did plan on gradual liberation of slaves, yet, held Africans to be inferior to Europeans – a list of paradoxes that just keeps growing. This is an interesting muddle to deal with, but one which I regretfully will have to leave for specialists of Jefferson's thought.

I am now mostly interested in Jefferson's religious ideas, or more precisely, in the way how he suggested religion should be seen in the affairs of state. Of course, his religious ideas as such are also of interest. Apparently, he had constructed his very own version of Gospels, cutting up pieces of life story and sayings of Jesus from all the Gospels and putting it all together into a whole. Particularly, Jefferson had discarded all descriptions of miracles and all suggestions of the divinity of Jesus, which might suggest that he was a deist of some sort.

Although Jefferson thus disparaged all ideas of supernatural, he appears to still have been interested of Christianity – why else would he go through the trouble of picking up lines from Bible? The idea of Jesus as a mere teacher of morality was, of course, a standard line in Enlightenment. Yet, it is of interest what Jefferson appropriated from these moral teachings.

The famous Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom (1777) begins with a statement that God created human beings free (well, technically Jefferson is speaking only of ”man”, but I am giving him the benefit of doubt and assume he isn't really restricting his statement to one gender). This is a crucial assumption in many versions of Christianity – freedom is an essential precondition for human responsibility (of course, Augustine might be of a different opinion, but I doubt Jefferson really cared about Augustine in this matter).

When Jefferson speaks of God as an author of ”our religion”, that is, Christianity, it is difficult to say how serious he really is – even if Jefferson believed in God, his God probably was an author of no religion. Yet, this statement is obviously a rhetorical move – it gives an air of authority and responsibility for what Jefferson is about to say.

Jefferson's strategy is to take some of the central ingredients of Christianity (or what he sees as these central thoughts). Humans are created free, thus, we must respect their freedom in every matter. Especially this holds of religion. If God would have wanted, he could have made us follow Christiniaty by default – yet, we know by experience he hasn't. Thus, we must follow God's example in this case and let everyone decide their own religious opinions for themselves, especially as every human being is by default prone to fall in error and thus no one person's judgement on religious affairs should be followed.

Jefferson's idea concurs with modern sensibilities, and his argument is also quite beautiful, relying on central ideas of the supposed opposition. It is quite astonishing to think that two quite different influences were behind the American revolution – the freethinking deism of Jefferson and the belief in personal guidance of God by Benjamin Franklin. A more speculative thinker might even suggest that these two ideologies are still battling of the spirit of American people, perhaps in the guise of very party system of that country.

perjantai 1. tammikuuta 2016

Louis Claude de Saint-Martin: Des Erreurs et de la Vérité (1775)

Saint-Martin (1743-1803) is a rare sort of philosopher, like of which one wouldn't expect to find out in the middle of French Enlightenment: a mystic, who was especially famous for translating works of Jakob Boehme. It is no wonder that a Schellingian like Franz von Baader was interested of the fellow. Although Saint-Martin is then an interesting writer to read, the peculiarity of his thought makes it also rather difficult to evaluate what he is saying.

Compared to the American religious thinkers I have acquainted myself with thus far, Saint-Martin has a capacity to make his obsession with some biblical stories sound nothing like preaching. This appearance is probably caused by the fact that Saint-Martin does not seem to accept Bible as a literal truth, but sees it more like an allegory of some deep-seated truths of human condition.

It is especially the story of fall that interests Saint-Martin. It is an important truth for Saint-Martin that we live in some manner in a fallen state, in which we are separated from our origin and from the truth of our existence. Humanity lives then in a state of duality, in which one force tries to tie her to the material nature around her, while the other force tries to lead her back to the original unity.

What the material world represents for Saint-Martin is the error that the title of his work mentions. It is especially materialism, with its assumption that matter is the primordial source of existence, which Saint-Martin assumes to be erroneous. In a line of argument, reminiscent of Leibniz, Saint-Martin suggests that matter cannot be eternal, because it is always made of something else, and this something else must be ultimately indivisible and therefore immaterial.

Yet, Saint-Martin is not suggesting that matter would be made out of monads, but from two primordial forces, one expanding matter into infinity, other contracting it into a unity – all very reminiscent of Kant's theory of matter. To unite these two forces, a third force is required, and beyond these material forces, a fourth immaterial force, governing the whole system of matter. These four forces correspond then with four traditional elements.

It is quite clear that Saint-Martin's theory of nature hails from a past, in which nature was still seen as full of simple mysteries, written not with the language of equations, but with the Pythagorean numerology. We do hear more fascinating suggestions of fantastic numerical relationships. Obviously three is an important number, as a symbol of a unity between opposed forces, and so is four, because fourth point, added to three points, makes up a material body. Zero symbolises circles, because circles have no angles – and zero can be identified with nine, for the very obvious reason that while adding 10 to a number adds one unit to it in the written form, adding 9 is in this sense like adding a 0 (it doesn't bother Saint-Martin that all of this occurs only in a decimal system). The most daring leap of thought occurs, when Saint-Martin states that a circle must be divided into 360 degrees, because shape of circle (0) can be approximated with six (6) triangles (3).

All this numerology sounds pretty far-fetched, but more interesting is Saint-Martin's idea that these numeric relationships are indications of an original language, of which all the earthly languages are mere faint reflections – that is, that the human mind has some intrinsic linguistic pattern, which makes us think there are interesting patterns in such relationships. Of course, Saint-Martin does not intend to draw any Kantian consequence, but assumes that this original language will take us closer to the original truth. Saint-Martin tries to uncover this original language from such a supposedly universal grammatical pattern as subject-verb-object – again, a triplicity. Yet, his final suggestion appears to be that music might be closest we get to the original language.

One might think this is just a harmless mysticism, with no practical application. Yet, Saint-Martin wanted also to suggest actual political activities conforming to his ideas. While the main idea of his philosophy is to return back to the original unity or truth, it seems pretty obvious he would emphasise the role of unity in state politics. Indeed, Saint-Martin goes even so far as to suggest that a good state ought to be governed by just one person – provided that she knows how to to attain the truth and lead other people to it.

If one can ever speak of an ideal of an enlightened dictatorship, here is a proper place. The problem with the ideal seems obvious. Even if we supposed a person who could have miraculously stretched the limit between our fallen state and the assumed original unity, it would still be a mystery, how we, who still live in a fallen state and are lured by the call of matter, could ever hope to recognise the enlightened person for what she is. If we cannot, we should be forced into the unity - but this seems unlikely to work - and if we can, then we already do not need her assistance.

This interesting dilemma suggests that we must reject the idea of ever finding a divinely reliable guide to good life. In next post, we shall see how a certain American suggested an alternative of tolerating different ways of living.