Inspired by a Voicecraft Freeform Session, November 1, 2021.
Philosophy & Art
Complexifying Plato’s banishment of artists and asking, “How can philosophy justify itself before art?” versus only “How art can justify itself before philosophy?”
Patrick G. Lake makes an interesting argument in “Plato’s Homer as a Guide for Moderation and Obedience” that Plato is not against art in general, but against art that can’t be made to fit “within a philosophical project.” Lake writes:
‘Plato turns Homer into a useful source of the training of the state’s leaders and subjects by ‘philosophically revising’ his poetry, citing the bard’s words in philosophic context in such a way that they support philosophical aims, values, and positions. At times, Plato will achieve this ‘revision’ through outright censorship — taking out from Homer what is not in accord with his philosophical program — at other times, Plato will misappropriate or interpret Homer is such a way that his poetry is an ally rather than an enemy of philosophy.’¹
After exiling poetry, Socrates is open to ‘a defense of poetry […] that it is not only ‘pleasurable […] but also ‘beneficial.’ ’² Lake suggests there is irony at work here, and ‘that Plato positions himself as the very champion that Socrates is looking for.’³ Despite the exile of poets, Lake argues that Homer for Socrates ‘plays an essential [role]’ in ‘the education of the philosopher-king.’⁴ Critically, this would mean that, while Socrates exiles poets for not meeting certain philosophical needs, Plato is suggesting that he shouldn’t be so exiled because he himself does meet those needs; furthermore, Plato suggests that he himself is essential to the education of Philosopher Kings. Plato himself can be viewed as a poet who meets the challenge of Socrates. (Harold Bloom certainly thought Plato was one of our greatest writers.)
If we accept this premise, then Plato is arguing not for art in general to be banished, but art that is “merely entertainment.” Plato wants art to fit into a philosophical project, and if it can’t, he wants it banished. If we accept all this, then I want to flip the question: Should we banish all philosophy from our society that doesn’t fit into an artist project? For too long, art has had to justify itself before philosophy versus philosophy justify itself before art. Ultimately, I think both need to justify themselves before one another (I’m thinking Hegel’s dialectic here), but emphasizing the need for “philosophy to fit itself into art” is warranted, I think, after centuries of the reverse being the reigning assumption (no doubt influenced by a traditional reading of Plato’s exile of poets).
The art Plato wants to banish is art we can associate with “the puppet show” in “The Allegory of the Cave.” Now, technically, there aren’t actual puppets in the Cave, but instead shadows on a wall that is ‘like the low curtain that puppeteers put up, over which they show their puppets’ (emphasis added) (that said, we can still talk about “puppets” in the Cave and get the point across, and actually the reading can prove very fruitful in different contexts like politics). Plato describes the source of the shadows on the wall as being something more like a hustling and bustling market; he writes:
[…] all along this low wall people are carrying all sorts of things that reach up higher than the wall: statues and other carvings made of stone or wood and many other artifacts that people have made. As you would expect, some are talking to each other [as they walk along] and some are silent.
The people casting the shadows which the prisoners see likely don’t even know they are casting shadows: the “shadows” don’t seem to result from some “intentional tyranny” like we are often led to believe (though they could). Still, even if technically not the result of puppets, the function of these shadows in Plato’s mind can still be compared to the functions of “bad art” (or “non-philosophical art”) in a society. “Bad art” keeps us imprisoned and distracted, and furthermore inspire problematic “games” that ultimately “pass the time” but don’t help us make the most of it. As Johannes A. Niederhauser stresses in his reading of “The Allegory of the Cave,” the prisoners play memorization games and give honors to those who can remember the order the shadows appear in best. Similarly, Plato worries that “bad art” (or “mere entertainment”) can inspire uses of mind and energy that ultimately don’t “fit into something bigger,” and who can doubt that Plato was right to be concerned? Consider all the “small talk” about “What movies have you seen recently?” and “idle talk” (Heidegger) about “liking this and disliking that” — consider the industry of “entertainment consumption” that defines the West and which Adorno lamented — Plato seems to have had a point. Unfortunately, in defending “beneficial art” indirectly and implicitly, Plato left open an interpretation of what he directly and explicitly stated that made Plato seem against all art in general. We did not learn from Plato to make careful distinctions.⁵
Please note that the game in the Cave indeed requires “memorization skill,” and there is something intellectually demanding about winning this game — the prisoners aren’t stupid. I think that is another common misreading: often, the one who leaves the cave is thought to be smart while the people who stay behind are dumb. No: the intellect of the prisoners is misapplied, while the intellect of the Philosopher King is rightly applied. The thinking of the prisoners fails to “fit into the right schema” or “right larger project”: the prisoners are engaged in “bad thinking” like poets can be engaged in “bad art.” But neither thinking nor art must be “bad”: under the right conditions and “toward” the right ends, both can be “good.” But what are those ends, and what are those conditions? Well, that possibly alludes to the biggest questions of all questions, and they will hopefully be addressed throughout the work of O.G. Rose.
To remain in the Cave is not to be stupid; in fact, we can stay in the Cave and be brilliant. What keeps one in the cave is not applying their brilliance to the “right ends,” and/or letting their brilliance be “captured” by a zeitgeist or “contained” within some mental prison. Why is this an important point? Because imagination, which is incubated by art, perception, and experience (as will be expanded on), determines “the bounds” in which rationality can operate. We cannot think about what we cannot imagine, and that means imagination goes first in intellectual development (or experience — something aesthetic leads the way). Rationality is not the source of its expansion, only its coherence. Those who stayed in the cave did what was “coherent” and “rational”: they became best at the memorization game. Neither able to imagine they could leave or willing to walk out of the cave, the prisoners who remained in the cave did what made the most sense: they trained to win the game of memorization.
I want to stress that the Philosopher King leaves the Cave: he doesn’t just “think about the upper-world,” but rather he actually “goes there.” He moves. He acts. He is aesthetic. On this point, we can understand why Homer is necessary for Philosopher Kings, which is to say Homer is necessary for helping us escape Plato’s Cave. “Good art” cultivates imagination and our aesthetic sensibilities, and without those, we cannot stop rationality from making it “rational, good, and wise” to devote all our energies to mastering the order of shadows. Unfortunately, “bad art” makes our situation worse, thus the necessity of nuance in Plato’s treatment of poets.
The Conflict of Mind argues that “truth organizes values,” and that means what we believe is true determines what we think is moral, sane, righteous, and the like. This is point is expanded on in a conversation with Samuel Barnes, but if this is all the case, and if it is actually aesthetics that determines “what we believe is true,” not rationality, then it is not possible for us to “escape the Cave” without aesthetics. Also, it is more so the case that “philosophy should fit into art” versus “art should fit into philosophy” (though both ultimately must occur dialectically), for rationality “fits” in truth, and truth comes before rationality.
“What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” — so goes the famous line from Tertullian. Here, I hope we have addressed the question “What does Philosophy have to do with Art?” The answer? “Everything,” for we cannot imagine if we cannot think, but we also cannot think what we cannot imagine.
1. It feels like we can philosophize about anything, and it also feels like everything could potentially be art. This feeling hints at the reality that the two fields have something to do with one another.
2. This work will associate “philosophy” with thinking and rationality, while “art” will be associated with perceiving and experience. To start, philosophy and art have a lot to do with one another because rationality and experience constantly inform one another and make one another possible. If we were born on a black canvas, how could we be rational? There’s nothing around to reason about. On the other hand, if we were plopped into the middle of a painting depicting a divine landscape, but unfortunately we were incapable of thinking, would we be “meaningfully” distinct from the scene? Would the scene even “meaningfully” be there at all?
3. In “The Allegory of the Cave,” the Philosopher King who returns from the upper-world cannot see well in the dark, and so comes off as a fool to the prisoners who never left. Plato writes:
Now if once again, along with those who had remained shackled there, the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows — while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, an adjustment that would require quite a bit of time — would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined — and thus it certainly does not pay to go up.
We often think of this passage as applying to “the wise person” returning to a community of the foolish, but I think we need to also consider it as referring to the one who has an “aesthetic vision” returning to “everyday life.” The artist is ridiculed like the prisoner who returns, not just the philosopher; worse yet, the philosopher, puffing his or her self up as “a martyr,” can then proceed to accuse artists of being “the fools who stay in the cave.” And so, the relationship between art and philosophy deteriorates, hurting us all.
4. Generally, art trains us to be particular, while philosophy helps us universalize. If we could never generalize, abstract, and the like, we would struggle to function in the world (we’d be overwhelmed by information constantly), but at the same time if we could only generalize, abstract, etc., then we’d never be thinking about the world. For more, please see “The Incompleteness of Thought.”
5. The question “What is art?” is one that we all know is difficult, but the question “What is philosophy?” isn’t much easier once you stop accepting the classic “love of wisdom”-answer.
6. The paper “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose makes a distinction between thinking about a pen and experiencing a pen, and notes that the moment we talk, think, or consider the pen, thought “races in” and consumes perception as if perception was never there. This makes it seem like I was always just “thinking about the pen,” that no other intellectual act was happening, but there very much was. This immediate phenomenological experience — every object in front of us is an opportunity to experience this “consuming” — provides a clue for why philosophy has a tendency to eclipse art in our thinking as more important. The high majority (if not all) of the material we think about is provided by experience (and thus aesthetics), and yet thinking “covers” experience so quickly that it’s easy to think “all we need is thinking.” So it goes with philosophy and art: it to think about a thing (and we seemingly can’t help but think all the time) is to “consume” our aesthetic experience of it, making it seem like aesthetic experiences are just acts of thinking. And so, we lose sight of the need for the distinction, and philosophy “takes over,” out of balance…
7. Art can be associated with truth while philosophy can be associated with rational. Truth with rationality cannot be understood, but rationality without truth is empty. “The true isn’t the rational,” and yet we need both via a dialectic, not a conflation.
8. The paper “Explained and Addressed” by O.G. Rose discusses the difference between “being explained” (which we can associate with thought, rationality, and philosophy) and “being addressed” (which we can associate with perception, experience, and art). The difference was mentioned in “The Philosophy of Lack 2” discussion, but to extract a section form the paper:
As discussed in “Dialectical Ethics” by O.G. Rose, “is-ness” and explanation go together, while “such-ness” and “address” are linked. A world of “such-ness” is a world of particularities and specifics, and that is where “address” can “meet us,” for it is only ever you who is addressed. Humanity can be explained, but humanity cannot be addressed. Only you and me can be “addressed,” and so if we are to be addressed again, not just explained, we must return to a world of particularities and specifics. We must see what’s right in front of us, and if we don’t take the time to learn how to “see,” what hope is there that we’ll be “seen?”
To feel “explained but not addressed” is to feel like a cog in a machine, a number in a computer — a human but not a person. It is to feel objectified, like we are things which could vanish and take with us our very vanishing. “What are we, anyway?” we may try to ask, and, in response, we are told about Evolution and the Big Bang. We are told about our brains as if that will help us stop feeling out of our minds. And then the teacher moves on to the next question, as if we have been addressed, when we have only been explained away. And away we go.
The paper goes on, but the point is that “a world of pure thinking” will “explain us all away,” while a world of “pure address” ends up fragile and likely to shatter. In this way, philosophy and art strengthen one another dialectically (also see the discussion with Dr. Last on “Absolute Knowing”). The humanities are generally “the arts of address” while the sciences are “the glories of explanation”: let us seek “glorious art.”
9. Philosophy is generally in the business of universal and “timeless truths,” but often the most important things in our lives are conditional and particular. A dialectic between art and philosophy attempts to bring the timeless into time.
10. The beauty of a sunset, and our hunger for its “more-ness,” only ever comes from our (original) experience of its particularity, its “such-ness”: few of us are moved (originally) by explanations of how sunsets come into existence generally, or elaborations on what composes them. And yet in a world that conflates “explanation” with “address,” it is easy to think that learning about how sunsets exist is the same as experiencing a sunset. But though the sunset couldn’t exist if it wasn’t possible to explain it, learning the explanation doesn’t feel the same as addressing the sunset. And that’s because it isn’t.
11. As we think about “high art” and “low art,” should we consider “high (resolution) philosophy” (full bodied, dialectical with the aesthetic) and “low (resolution) philosophy” (disembodied, nondialectical)?
12. If we think according to metaphors, and our ability to use metaphors well is tied to “artistic training,” then artistic training directly shapes our abilities to philosophically reason. (see “Meaningful and Metaphoric Tendencies” by O.G. Rose for more). Both Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, along with Surfaces and Essence by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, help make this case. To focus on the latter, it should be noted that Einstein had a special ability with analogies to ‘take advantage of similarities but [also] create deep unifications.’⁶ To quote at length:
‘Einsteinian analogies […] were initially perceived as bold leaps of an idiosyncratic intuition, if not as wild speculations, but which later, once they had been repeatedly shown to be correct, were retroactively perceived as eternal truths of nature rather than as merely one individual’s subjective and uncertain speculations about some kind of similarity.’⁷
I bring this to our attention because it seems like a secret to the genius of Einstein was that he had a really good imagination, and that his imaginary was primary in the realization of his greatest discoveries. If this is how it worked for Einstein, why would it be any different for philosophers? If art indeed trains the imagination, then for the philosopher not to be involved in art would be for the philosopher to lack resources for the imagination which proved primary for Einstein.
13. As Bernard Hankins points out, Chapter 11, Pager 339, of the 9/11 Commission Report says, ‘We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.’ The first section then expands on “imagination,” and on page 344 discusses “The Case of Aircraft as Weapons.” ‘Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies’ — a favorite sentence of mine that unveils something deep. Basically, because we couldn’t imagine 9/11, we couldn’t stop it. What we cannot imagine, we cannot think. If it is true that art trains and stimulates imagination (as does beauty), then art could have helped us stop 9/11. The section claims that ‘[it] is therefore crucial to find a way of routinizing, even bureaucratizing, the exercise of imagination.’⁸ If indeed the limits of what we can think is tied to the limits of what we can imagine, then philosophy without art will be limited and lack the capacity to know it is limited. (This also points to the critical “true versus rational”-distinction that defines the work of O.G. Rose).
14. Without art and imagination, there are simply certain ideas “that never come,” and so the philosopher isn’t missing out on anything. If there is something the masculine could learn from the feminine, the masculine doesn’t naturally know there is something it could learn from the feminine. To truly not know something is to not know we don’t know it. What Kierkegaard warned about despair applies to philosophy without art: to be in despair entails not know we are in it.
15. Today, though Derrida attacked the dichotomy justly, we still make distinctions between “high art” and “low art,” and though I do think this dichotomy can be a problem, there is some legitimacy to it. I don’t think we can say Infinity War and Moonlight are “artistically equivalent,” though that doesn’t mean there is no value in Infinity War (I thought it was awesome). Some art simply fits better into the “Great Conversation” than does other art, and some art also inspires “the great artists” more so than other pieces. The canon we refer to is a result of “inspiration” not a powerful bureaucracy which decided which pieces of art were “the great works,” and if inspiration is our test, then some art is more inspiring than other pieces of art (a point Camille Paglia stresses). On these grounds, I think distinctions between “types of art” can be warranted, though I agree with Derrida that just becomes something is more difficult means it is better. Personally, I think “The Dead” by Joyce is better than Finnegan’s Wake.
16. If we associate art with images and perception, then to “discuss” art is to bring images and perception into the “realm” of words and thought, and that means art is “set up” to play on philosophy’s terms. The philosopher that humbly realizes this can “make space” for art and learn, but the philosopher who doesn’t will have good reason to think he shouldn’t have (“totally depraved,” per se).
17. A Ph.D is a “doctor of philosophy,” suggesting everyone at “the highest level of education” is a kind of philosopher. This suggests that the nature of philosophy may “trickle down” into all educational realms, shaping it. If we get philosophy wrong — if we don’t dialectically shape it with art — education as a whole may reflect that mistake.
18. Imagine a world with absolutely no art, and I mean none (architecture, story, etc.).
Imagine a world with absolutely no philosophy.
Which world seems to be missing something more fundamental?
(Can we tell?)
19. G.K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man notes in the section “The Man in the Cave” (sounds like Plato allusion to me…), that ‘people have been interested in everything about the caveman expect what he did in the cave.’⁹ And what do we see in the cave? A lot of cave drawings. Primitive man was an artist. We are told a lot about the violence of the caveman and brutishness, but Chesterton suggests the common depiction is ‘simply a myth.’¹⁰ ‘Art is the signature of man,’ Chesterton says (which I think supports the case for the Artifex in “The Creative Concord,” by the way).¹¹ This is important for philosophy because philosophers have had a long of history of using “state of natures” as foundations for their philosophical systems (Hobbes and Rousseau come to mind). But none of the great philosophers viewed primitive humanity as an artist (at least that I know of), perhaps precisely because that would suggest that at the foundation of a philosophical system would be a kind of person who Plato told us should be banished from “The Republic” (according to our “explicit” interpretation). But if we take Chesterton seriously (and complexify our reading of Plato), then we can start thinking about “The Artistic Savage” as a foundation for philosophical reasoning (and economic reasoning, mind you).
For those interested in this topic, you might enjoy this recent discussion with Davood Gozli and John David, inspired by Hayden White, called “Ideas of ‘Wild Man’ throughout History.”
20. Martha Nussbaum in Love’s Knowledge suggests that novels train us to “learn how to see,” and that novels declare to us that there is a certain conditionality we must meet to really “get them” (take Joyce). Proust is particularly interesting, and she notes that, according to Proust, ‘one of the primary aims of literary art is to show us moments in which habit is cut through by the unexpected, and to engender in the reader a similar upsurge of true, surprised feeling.’¹² Proust is famous for claiming that his goal was “the kindling of new eyes” versus arriving at a destination, and for me this sounds similar to the goal of philosophy. Additionally, I would argue that many of the great insights of philosophy have resulted from “bursts of insight,” which is reminiscent of Proust. Bertrand Russell comes to mind on this point, who describes a moment when he found himself
‘filled with semi-mystical feelings about beauty […] The mystic insight which I then imagined myself to possess has largely faded, and the habit of analysis has reasserted itself. But something of what I thought I saw in that moment has remained always with me.’¹³
Russel believed that he was ‘a completely different person’ after this experience, and also notes that it shaped his philosophy forever forth.¹⁴ The work of Csikszentmihalyi in Flow and Creativity both come to mind here, suggesting that “immersion experiences” and/or “mystical experiences” shape thought in profound and incredible ways, which is to say the aesthetic changes philosophy.
Does art increase the likelihood that philosophers have experiences like these?
If philosophy can’t entail experiences like these, who would care for it?
21. Both philosophy and art tend to result from moments of great inspiration. The muse visits the philosopher as the muse visits the artist. Perhaps the muse knows they relate?
22. Thinking after an experience is always after the experience (even if during it, each moment is passing), which means we are always thinking about something that is gone. Thinking is thus “trying to retrieve” something that involved sounds, sights, feelings, etc., and all thinking can bring back is ideas. We live with this tension and try to improve so that we can fail better.
23. To experience something is to “take in” something that feels like it simply “offers itself” and “gives itself over.” But sometimes we can only access “the fullness” of a thing by thinking about it, for these thoughts can “guide” our experience to new levels that experience would have never reached without thought. The first time I read The Sound and the Fury, for example, it might be nonsense to me, but after I think about it, it could become a work that changes my life. The first time I meet a person, I may not think much of him, but if I think about what he’s trying to say, what intention might motivate his actions, etc., then suddenly he can become a dear friend. That all said, sometimes my efforts to “think about things” that present themselves in experience can be what “shrink them” into mere premises and thoughts. And likewise, sometimes it is experience that needs to take the lead and guide thought out of its own certainty and assumption: I may “think” that I’m working the right job, but letting myself “try something new” could be an experience that shifts my thinking (out of its own “internally consistent systems”).
How do we strike the right balance between thinking and perceiving, between philosophy and art? To start, we need a lifetime of attentiveness.
24. The House of Intellect by Jacques Barzun, an important text, quotes Faulkner as saying, ‘Nobody can really teach anybody else anything.’¹⁵ Is this true? Well, I am under the impression that nobody can be taught anything “new,” meaning outside the range of “their truth,” without a profound experience of truth, and that cannot be provided by rationality, only by art and beauty.
25. “Sacramental ontology” was the secret of the great Christian Southern writers like Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor (a topic I discuss here in the context of the Protestant Work Ethic). O’Connor claimed that ‘[t]he best American fiction has always been regional,’ suggesting the necessity of “particularity” and “embeddedness” in art.¹⁶ She wrote that the great writer will ‘try to enshrine the mystery with the fact,’ and this is because the greater writer is ‘more respectful of the concrete.’¹⁷
For O’Connor, this was important because the sacred was found in the actual: we learned about God not by looking for God over nature, but by looking at nature “right in the eyes.” She believed in “sacramental ontology,” and I cannot help but feel that thinkers like Heidegger and Nishitani believed in something similar when they emphasized “such-ness” (as Johannes, Sengstock, and Zaruba often discuss). As the writing which tries to be universal suffers and ends up being about nothing in its effort to be about everything, so the philosophy that tries to be general likewise suffers. Both thrive when based on concrete experience. ‘The spirit is a bone’ (Hegel).
It should also be noted that O’Connor warned that ‘[t]he isolated imagination is easily corrupted by theory,’ and I can’t help but think the same applies to philosophers.¹⁸ The other idea that stands out to me is that ‘it is the business of the artist to reveal what haunts us.’19 Philosophers, too, are supposed to ‘open the window and point’ (to allude to Martin Buber).
26. John Gribben in Deep Simplicity offers a wonderful guide for understanding chaos, complexity, and emergence. To make a brief point, the more philosophy drifted away from art, the less it thought in terms of “emergence,” for great artists “observe” that the work they make cannot be reduced “just to them.” They speak of muses and inspiration, all of which is the language of “emergence.”
27. Austin Farrer suggested that we cannot have a moral compass without a sense of design. If we look at a garden, we can tell the difference between weeds and flowers because of what we intended. We designed for pumpkins and squash to grow, and so can tell that morning glories, though beautiful, do not belong there. Perhaps we can make an exception, but the point is that our “sense of what’s right and wrong” is relative to our sense of design. Design entails “ought.” (For more on this argument, please see “Farrer’s Theodicy” by William McF. Wilson and Julian N. Hartt.)
Art is in the business of design, and arguably every artform entails a design. When philosophy separates itself from art, it also separates itself from the ability to recognize and locate design beyond the systems it creates in itself and to itself (which risks confirmation bias). Often, a “good design” strikes us as beautiful, which would suggest the philosopher could use beauty as a heuristic to determine what “rationally” should be kept in the design and what shouldn’t be. But if beauty play no role, it will be hard for philosophy to move into the realm of “design” and by extension “construction.” Deconstruction will win the day, and not like Derrida intended.
28. Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction by Wallace Stevens contains the passage:
You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.
This captures the project of phenomenology well. We must see the sun ‘in the idea of it,’ and yet “the idea of the sun” is not “the sun.” Trying to “stare well” harkens back to Flannery O’Connor, and it is the practice of the artist that I think philosophers need to cultivate. The philosopher ‘should never be ashamed of staring’ (O’Connor), for how else will we know if we have learned to resist the temptation to replace “the thing” with “the idea?” How else will we know if we can pass the test?
29. Jacques Maritain in The Responsibility of the Artist assert strongly that ‘Writers are concerned with ideas and they communicate ideas.’²⁰ Obvious enough, but for Maritain that means artists must be philosophical (though it also means all of us are philosophers). For Maritain, ‘actions [should be] repressed if they tend to destroy the foundations of life in common,’ and he also notes that ‘the use of ideas can itself aim at action.’²¹ ²² This means artists must take seriously the ideas they “show forth” and be careful that these ideas are “constructive,” but Maritain fears that if artists think they have “nothing to do with philosophy” (assisted by traditional readings of Plato), this responsibility won’t be rightly exercised. Art divided from philosophy is bound to prove destructive.
30. “The Thinker as Poet,” the opening section of Martin Heidegger’s Poetry, Language, Thought, suggests that we cannot get to “Being past being(s)” except by a “new way of thought” that Heidegger suspects has something to do with aesthetics. I think this particular stanza captures the truth that philosophy deals more with rationality than true (and thus needs art):
To think is to confine yourself to a
single thought that one day stands
still like a star in the world’s sky.²³
31. Difference and Repetition can be read as an attempt of Deleuze to place “essential difference” at the heart of ontological thinking, which would make each of us a work of art. I love this idea, but just wish he wouldn’t have thrown out “epistemologies of representation,” but that is another topic for another time.
32. Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer suggests that art is our best chance for learning about the past, for it is how we can encounter “the horizon” of other ages. Gadamer has a lot to say on aesthetics and philosophy, and I’ve told myself for years that I need to go back and take a deeper dive into his book…yea…
33. The work of Daniel Pink focuses on the primacy of “intrinsic motivation’ in human flourishing (which I attempt to tie to “smoothing out” business cycles). Pink argues that “intrinsic motivation” increases “right bring thinking,” and generally “right brain thinking” generates new and creative ideas. “Right brain thinking” is trained by the aesthetic and creative expression, so philosophers who aren’t artistic probably won’t be very creative. As a result, their philosophy will suffer.
34. If philosophy is going to discuss facts, outside immediate experience, it must get its facts from somewhere, and it’s likely to be from science (since science deals with information that doesn’t change by the day, unlike the news, and philosophy generally likes “lasting truths,” per se). That’s not a bad thing, but if philosophers aren’t balanced with artistic thinking, they may unintentionally end up support “scientism.” Aesthetics can make philosophers nimbler; additionally, art trains us to cope with living with “many truths.” And if Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is right, that’s going to be notably important for both philosophers and scientists. Pirsig writes:
And what seems to be causing the number of hypothesis to grow in recent decades seems to be nothing other than the scientific method itself. The more you look, the more you see. Instead of selecting one truth from a multitude you are increasing the multitude. What this means logically is that as you try to move toward unchanging truth through the application of scientific method, you actually do not move toward it at all. You move away from it!²⁴
I’m not sure if Pirsig is right here (which reminds me of “The Nova Effect” in Charles Taylor), but Pirsig might be, and if “living with this reality” of Pluralization and difference is generally a skill and disposition mastered by the artist. To avoid cognitive dissonance, the philosopher and scientist might need it as well (it’s hard to imagine good ideas combing out of “dissonant brains”). Arguably, this suggests that everyone under Pluralism will need “aesthetic sensibilities” for us to avoid societal trouble, but that is a case made in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose).
35. Hannah More, the great reformer and opponent of slavery, believed that stopping slavery was tied to training the imagination. She understood that, ‘more than ideas, imagination moved the world.’²⁵ Her goal was to ‘expand the country’s moral imagination so it might at last see horrors too grave for the rational mind to grasp’ — this idea suggests that rationality can be blind without imagination.²⁶ If this is true, the philosophy alone cannot end grave atrocities like slavery (and can easily be in service of “Nazi Doctors,” per se). In this sense, ethical philosophy is impossible without aesthetics.
36. Art and sexuality are often tied together, and it could be that philosophy needs art to harness libido energy in its favor. I’m not sure.
37. G.E. Moore argued that the principle of “being good” was similar to “being yellow,” which is to say that we know goodness “when we see it,” that goodness cannot be understood in terms of rational premises independent of an encounter. In this way, I think Moore hinted at an “phenomenological ethics” that might also have implications for beauty. Perhaps beauty is like the color yellow?
38. Walter J. Ong argues that the invention of written language transformed how people spoke and thought. It’s an extensive argument, but the idea is that the way thought operates is deeply shaped by media technology. This also brings to mind the warnings of Orwell on how the loss of language contributes to the loss of thought. I make both of these examples to strengthen the case that thinking is always “inside” of something, and that something is outside of rationality. As the loss of language impacts our ability to think, so I would say the same occurs with a loss of art. And inventors and scientists are often inspired by art, so this in turn suggests that the technologies which are invented and shape thinking are shaped aesthetically. It all feeds together.
39. ‘Beauty will save the world,’ Dostoevsky famously suggested, which doesn’t make much sense until we realize that rationality is incapable of operating outside of itself. All it can do is discover coherence: it needs beauty to try to “correspond” to beauty. For more on this line of thought, pleas see “On Conspiracies and Pandora’s Rationality” by O.G. Rose.
40. ‘Wanting something for its beauty is wanting it, not wanting to do something with it’ — a marvelous line from Roger Scruton (one of the great Aesthetic Philosophers, alone with Elain Scarry).²⁷ Kant famous discussed “The Kingdom of Ends,” a world where things are not treated as “means.” If Scruton is right, then the road to Kant’s utopia is beauty. (“Aesthetics Then Ethics” by O.G. Rose also discusses this topic).
Scruton also wrote something else that, if correct, means philosophers practically hurt their philosophical work if they don’t think about aesthetics:
‘[I]t really matters which kind of art you adhere to, which you include in your treasury of symbols and allusions, which you carry around in your heart.’²⁸
I am tempted to quote Scruton’s entire book, but I will resist.
41. H.R. Rookmaaker makes the argument throughout his thinking that the fate of art is the fate of civilization. Is that true? Well, it could be if art shapes what we love, and what we love shapes are habits (as argued by James K.A. Smith). Society is largely comprised of the sum total of habits, and bad art will cause bad habits. I’m not saying this is necessarily true, but I do think “we are what we love,” and aesthetics do in fact work on our hearts. If philosophers don’t care about beauty, I fear they will not own what they care to think about.
42. It is possible for something that is art “right now” a second later not be art at all? If the phenomenological experience changes, does the art change as well?
43. We know the draft of a story is “in the genre of art” by virtue of it being a story, but it doesn’t tend to strike us as art until it’s revised and tweaked in that special way. Then — bam — it hits us, and it’s “as if” it was always art (a flip moment).
44. David Foster Wallace said:
‘[…] it’s very hard to talk about people’s relationship with any kind of God, in any book later than like Dostoyevsky. I mean the culture, it’s all wrong for it now. You know? No, no. Plausibly realistic characters don’t sit around talking about this stuff. You know?’²⁹
If this is true, it would suggest the separation between art and philosophy is happening both by art’s choice and philosophy’s doing. Both are doing damage to the case for “a new way of thinking.”
45. If philosophy is “the love of wisdom,” is art “the love of harmony?” Can we be wise without harmony; can we have harmony without wisdom? (For more, see “On Beauty” by O.G. Rose.)
46. If love without truth destroys, truth without love dies.
47. Thinking and its efficiency can threaten art and its experience, and if efficiency destroys an important experience, all efficiency experiences will be evidence of its efficiency. Rationality is always confirmed.
48. Thinking seeks to solve problems, while art seeks experience. If we solve problems that aren’t there, we can become a terror.
49. Since “truth organizes values,” failure to meaningful define thinking from perception, rationality from truth, will result in a rationality that always organizes values in its favor. Art can save philosophy from the violence of “unbound values.”
50. Sometimes sounding Deleuzian in the need to avoid “capture,” Walker Percy writes brilliantly on the need to escape “preset complexes” in order to have real aesthetic experiences (and meaning). Percy writes:
‘To put it bluntly: A student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet may have the greatest difficulty in salvaging the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented.’³⁰
By this, Percy means to say that we go into an English classroom “expecting” a certain experience, and that very expectation hurts our ability to really “experience” subjects of education (Neil Postman on “the medium of education” comes to mind here, as discussed in “Trivia(l)”). Similarly, thinking creates “preset ideas and complexes” about experiences we can have in the world, and these “ideas” get in the way of our experiences. Our ideas about sunsets keep us from experiencing them, a problem only worsened by cellphones (as described in “Representing Beauty”).
Philosophy always runs the risk of creating “abstract schemas” that block and inhibit full experiences. This problem becomes most obvious when Percy describes our capacity to “experience the Grand Canyon.” ‘The thing is no longer the thing as it confronted the Spaniard; it is rather that which has already been formulated — by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folders, and the words Grand Canyon.’³¹ I will leave an expansion on this point though for “On Beauty.”
51. Though masculinity is associated with “bravery,” if masculinity goes together with thinking, thinking tends to create an “internally consistent system” that makes it “rational” never to move outside of itself. The feminine element can encourage masculinity to “imagine” and “move outside of itself,” but masculinity finds that “irrational.” Is this bravery?
52. The “new thinking” this work alludes to seems to be a balancing of truth, beauty, and goodness, but never one without the others. A constant awareness. A constant recalibration to keep these together.
53. Every object presents itself as an opportunity to get better at balancing philosophy and art, thinking and perceiving — every object is a gift and road to “both-ness.”
54. Without the aesthetic, rationality creates the cave and the chains which chain rationality to the cave.
55. Hopefully, “The Philosophy of Glimpses” traces out the “new kind of thinking” suggested in this work. The Fate of Beauty will also dive into this problem, and hopefully (Re)constructing “A Is A” makes the case for what we are ontologically, and that case alone proves that “classical philosophical reasoning” simply won’t do any longer.
¹Allusion to “Plato’s Homer as a Guide for Moderation and Obedience” by Patrick G. Lake.
²Allusion to “Plato’s Homer as a Guide for Moderation and Obedience” by Patrick G. Lake.
³Allusion to “Plato’s Homer as a Guide for Moderation and Obedience” by Patrick G. Lake.
⁴Allusion to “Plato’s Homer as a Guide for Moderation and Obedience” by Patrick G. Lake.
⁵One wonders if a Straussian reading of Plato is needed and if there was a spirit against art at the time of Plato’s work that made Plato have to “veil” his view. I’m not sure.
⁶Hofstadter, Douglas and Emmanuel Sander. Surface and Essences. New York, NY. Basic Books, 2013: 485.
⁷Hofstadter, Douglas and Emmanuel Sander. Surface and Essences. New York, NY. Basic Books, 2013: 486.
⁸9/11 Commission Report. New York, NY. W.W. Norton & Company, 2004: 344.
⁹Chesterton, G.K. The Everlasting Man. San Francisco, CA. Ignatius Press, 1993: 28.
¹⁰Chesterton, G.K. The Everlasting Man. San Francisco, CA. Ignatius Press, 1993: 30.
¹¹Chesterton, G.K. The Everlasting Man. San Francisco, CA. Ignatius Press, 1993: 34.
¹²Nussbaum, Martha. Love’s Knowledge. Oxford University Press, 1992: 43.
¹³Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russel. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1967: 221.
¹⁴Russell, Bertrand. The Autobiography of Bertrand Russel. An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1967: 220.
¹⁵Barzun, Jacques. The House of Intellect. New York, NY: First Perennial Classics Edition, 2002: 129.
¹⁶O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York, NY. The Library of America. 1988: 847.
¹⁷O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York, NY. The Library of America. 1988: 864.
¹⁸O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York, NY. The Library of America. 1988: 856.
¹⁹O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York, NY. The Library of America. 1988: 861.
²⁰Maritain, Jacques. The Responsibility of the Artist. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960: 77.
²¹Maritain, Jacques. The Responsibility of the Artist. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960: 78.
²²Maritain, Jacques. The Responsibility of the Artist. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960: 79.
²³Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. New York, NY. HarperCollins Publishers, 2001: 4.
²⁴Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York, NY. HarperTorch, 2006: 141.
²⁵Prior, Karen. Fierce Convictions. Nelson Books, 2014: 221.
²⁶Prior, Karen. Fierce Convictions. Nelson Books, 2014: 128.
²⁷Scruton, Roger. Beauty. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2009: 19.
²⁸Scruton, Roger. Beauty. New York, NY. Oxford University Press, 2009: 99.
²⁹Lipsky, David. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. Broadway Books. New York, 2010: 82.
³⁰Percy, Walker. The Message in the Bottle. New York, NY: First Picador USA Edition, 2000: 57
³¹Percy, Walker. The Message in the Bottle. New York, NY: First Picador USA Edition, 2000, 47.
We are what we love, to allude to James K.A. Smith’s invaluable phrase, for what we love is what forms our habits, and our habits form our character. Importantly, Scruton argued that we find beautiful what we love and love what we find beautiful, and if Smith is correct, that means what we find beautiful shapes our habits and character.
Let’s say you need glasses. Is it practical for you to wear them? Absolutely: glasses pretty much make all practice possible; it would be hard to walk to the fridge without them. Glasses won’t help you lift a box onto a shelf directly, but indirectly, they are absolutely essential…
If You Want to Find Meaning in Life, Don’t Look for It.
(Blog) Instead, look at beauty and increase your capacity to experience it. Meaning is found indirectly.
There is a lot of talk today about finding meaning, and I won’t argue with any of it. If you haven’t read Victor Frankl or Daniel Pink, you should: a life with all the riches in the world but without meaning is a life suffered. However, I think there’s a problem: the advice we’re given is to do whatever it is we are intrinsically motivated to do, and though that’s all the advice a lot of people need, there are lots of people for whom this isn’t enough guidance at all. They don’t know what they want. They don’t know what they are intrinsically motivated to do. And so their suffering can almost get worse by learning about the importance of meaning. If they didn’t know they needed a meaningful life and didn’t do something meaningful, that would be bad, but now they know they should live a meaningful life and aren’t, and that’s worse.
Story Is The Structure of Life and Fiction
(Blog) Problematically, We Conflate “Fiction” with “False.”
Reality is more like a story than a collection of facts, and yet when someone claims something is like a story, we tend to associate it with being fictitious. Paradoxically, we associate “raw facts” with depicting reality accurately, when none of us live in a world of “just facts.” Subjectivity is very real in our experience, so unless I’m going to live in a world without the very subjectivity that makes my awareness of facts possible, then subjectivity must be included in my depiction of reality if that depiction is to be accurate. And yet the moment I do so, I can be accused of making my depiction inaccurate, and indeed, maybe I am: in subjectivity not being as “solid” as facts, it can be much harder to know if I’m giving subjectivity the right treatment and incorporating it properly. This can increase anxiety, which can increase a temptation to escape that anxiety by removing subjectivity again (as I will likely be encouraged to do).
Phenomenology as a Method for Avoiding Formalism
(Blog) We need definitions and structures, but how can we create them without risking arbitrary restriction and…
Formalism is the act of creating structures in which entities like “beauty,” “goodness,” and “truth” can be defined and judged. It’s a kind of philosophical recipe where we say that if we have a little x, a spoonful of y, and a pinch of z, we’ll have ourselves a beautiful painting. Formalism is extremely tempting because it creates a clear standard by which to judge things, to create things, to strive for things to become like, and so on. Without formalism, we can feel like we’re lost in a sea of chaos, but the cost of not feeling lost is restriction.
Art Is a Source for Mental Models
(Blog) On How Art Provides Categories and Lenses
“Mental models” are tools through which we can understand the world. Reminiscent of Cardinal Newman’s point that words do not wear their meaning (which means interpretation is unavoidable), data does not “wear on its face” the right way to interpret it, nor does data tell us automatically the right conclusions we should draw. We have to do that work ourselves, but if we use the wrong model or lens through which to understand data, the data won’t stop us from making that mistake. It will remain silent, and, right or wrong, let us do what we want with it.
Beauty and Art Inspire Creativity
(Blog) If our desire to create increases as does our experience of beauty and meaning, increasing aesthetic capacities…
Have you ever met someone who thinks they aren’t creative? A lot of people, right? Very few people are willing to say “I’m creative,” and the people who are creative just seem lucky. And indeed, there probably is luck involved, but what if part of the problem is that we need to stop “trying to be creative” and instead “try to experience beauty?” What if like meaning, creativity is something we find indirectly more so than directly? What if it’s by directly seeking beauty and art that we can indirectly cultivate our creativity (and sense of meaning)?
Particularity, Situatedness, and Knowing Where We Are
Specificity helps us locate ourselves, so does that mean generality and duplication contribute to us feeling lost?
If I start talking about McDonald’s, you will probably have no idea where I’m talking about: Mcdonald’s is everywhere. But if I mention Café Du Monde, you’ll probably know I’m talking about New Orleans. Particularity entails situatedness, especially where there isn’t duplication. When talking about the Mona Lisa, we know we are talking about the Louvre — or maybe not. The original, yes, we associate with that famous museum, but now that the world is filled with copies and prints of the painting, perhaps I could be talking about “seeing the Mona Lisa” in my friend’s house. Due to duplication, it’s not so easy to know where we’re situated when talking about the famous painting.
Links include audio summaries
What do we talk about when we talk about beauty? If Wittgenstein is correct that ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world,’ then it would seem to follow that “the expressions of my language are the expressions of my world.” Hence, if we can pin down a clear way a word is used and separate it from how other words are used, we might also be able to isolate a distinct experience and/or “use,” and thus arrive at a distinct meaning. From Wittgenstein, we can then move into phenomenology: the effort to define a word becomes the effort to define an experience, to achieve meaning.
Successfully, Karl Marx identified the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, and “the material dialectic,” but despite his emphasis on creativity, he failed to identify the artifex, meaning “creator class,” which is comprised of entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists. An artifexian, which is a term first introduced in this paper, is anyone who creates or recreates a means of production and/or a thing to be produced. Marx, it seems, conflated creators with the general proletariat, and consequently his material dialectic only halfway addresses the nature of socioeconomic change. The full dialectic by which society “marches” through history can be expressed as follows…
To be materialistic is to focus on material things, while the optimal way humans relate to things is as if those things are ‘invisible’, per se. According to Heidegger, a doorknob is ‘invisible’ to us until it breaks, for until then we use it to open a door without thinking about it. It’s only when the doorknob doesn’t work that we stop and notice it. Similar should be our engagement with all things in the world: to exist in this way is to avoid materialism. This isn’t to imply that material items are only valuable to the degree they have utility; rather, by claiming things should be ‘invisible’, this means things should be ‘synchronized’ with the whole of one’s life, as a gear is ‘invisible’ when synchronized with the whole of a working machine. One can notice a gear as one can notice a nice rug, and this is not problematic as long as this act of acknowledgment doesn’t infringe upon the synchronization or operation of the whole. However, when the machine doesn’t work, so the synchronization stops and the gear becomes ‘visible’ in the sense that it ‘stands out’ as a thing independent of the other things with which it works in relation. Likewise, material things become ‘visible’ to a person when that person’s life ceases to be unified into a synchronized whole, a unification which only ‘purpose’ can bring about. Considering this, one is materialistic to the degree that his or her relation to material things results in the de-synchronization of that individual’s whole life, which occurs when things detract from that person’s realization of his or her purpose. Without purpose, materialism is unavoidable.
(Essay) Intentional and Unintentional Thought, Low Order and High Order Complexity
How do humans experience thinking? Is it willed or does it just appear? This might be a strange question, but addressing it might help us decide the way to incubate and encourage the right kind of thinking as a society. Furthermore, we might learn to identify biases that privilege intentional thinking and “low order complexity,” a bias which could hinder creativity and the “high order complexity” which defines necessary and emergent phenomena, without which our society and lives could suffer. Both “low order” and “high order” complexity play key roles in our lives, but our brain seems to be in the business of trying to put all our eggs in the “low order” basket.
Why does history repeat? Why does it seem thinkers like Heidegger are at war with language? Why does it seem art has more influence on ideas than ideas on art, and though both have an impact, why does art seem to change the world more so than philosophy (as technology seems to be more consequential than education)? Why do words often fail us? Why does the phrase “I can’t put it into words” resonate? Why does knowing things could be worse not make us happier?
It’s because ideas are not experiences.
Aesthetics Then Ethics
(Essay) On Particularity and How Ethics Without Aesthetics is Legalistic, Inefficient, Uninspiring, and Risks…
If I find something beautiful, I treat it with care. If there is a vase in the kitchen that is notably elegant, I make a point not to bump into it, but if there is a vase made of plastic that I bought for cheap, though I won’t intentionally break it, I won’t be nearly as careful, and if I have to make a hard choice between catching the plastic vase from following off a ledge and catching a glass, I could easily choose the glass. Beauty corresponds with value, and if I find something beautiful, relative to the degree I do, I naturally and willing take care of it. This isn’t to say that beauty is necessary for me to care, but it is to say that beauty naturally inspires consideration and concern without anyone coming along and threatening to put me in jail if I don’t act better.
Discussions and Conversations
On the unity of being and thought:
With O.G. Rose, Thomas O’Halloran and Seth Horras
A Philosophy of Glimpses: The Prolegomena to a New Metaphysics and Phenomenology of Lacks (Full Playlist)
Dialogue on how to live a dialectical/dialogical life: With O.G. Rose and Zeb Kaylique
Episode #26: Ty Cooper on Amanda, the Business of Art, and the Art of Life
Episode #23: Bernard Hankins on Art, Philosophy, and Healing
Please also see: