Archive

Epictetus

Originally posted at attemptsatliving in February 2013.

If humans can only have structural access to things-in-themselves, and only ever fashion approximate knowledge of objects and assemblages through signification practices and epistemic phantasies, then what actually matters is how we pragmatically act, react and cope in the world in relation to them. Insert all the references to Wittgenstein’s ‘language games’ and ‘family resemblances’, Rorty’s ‘ironism’, and/or any other post-critical concessions you want right here. The bottom-line is that immanent structural – or perhaps infrastructural – relations have traceable consequences via the onto-specific powers or potencies (or what Bryant refers to as ‘pluri-potencies’) of things at a pre-reflective level of direct material-energetic affectivity. And the distal stories (narratives, ontologies, etc.) we tell ourselves about these consequential interactions – however poetic or meaning-full, or instrumental (useful) they may be – are basically coping mechanisms to help us make our way in the wild world as fully enfleshed beings-in-the-world.

Michael-, On Being and Coping part one: ontic relation and object access.

In this hastily put together post I want to discuss corporealism, the idea that all that exists is bodies and that these bodies are real objects that really touch one another. I’ll be drawing on the Stoic conception of corporealism and discussing their ideas of matter and God. I think that the possibility of a realism that doesn’t become a panpsychism and that doesn’t support absolute absence can be founded on a commitment to the weird materialism of corporealism. In other words, corporealism is one possible name for a realism that focusses on the structural relation between bodies rather than on the epistemic. What is excluded from this post is a consideration of the equally important doctrine of incorporeals.

Origins of Corporealism.

According to Christoph Jedan, the Stoic doctrine of corporealism was an attempt to reconcile three varieties of thought active in the Hellenistic world. First, they were operating in a world were prospective Stoics would be immersed within a polytheistic cosmology that the majority of people had no reason to be atheistic toward. Secondly, the Stoics also had to compete with other schools cosmologies, and these all included treatments of divinity. We could think of Plato’s philosophical treatment of deity as being the most symptomatic of this. In the Timaeus Plato introduces his idea of the divine as demiurge, the perfectly good craftsman divinity that organises a pre-existent chaos and thereby produces the visible world. This demiurge is therefore transcendent of the material world, making use of the perfect realm of Forms in order to give form to matter. Matter pre-exists form and the God which renders it. This is important because it means that God is not absolute in the way of Christianity. The nexus Plato-demiurge-Christianity would later become important through the Gnostic conceptions of the demiurge as incompetent or evil, producing an utterly imperfect material realm and thereby explaining evil as a structural element of the world itself. The tension between fidelity to traditional fidelity and a philosophically refracted God would have been present in the Stoic’s world. The third element Jedan identifies is the Stoic’s own ‘tendency to a “materialistic ontology”‘. Jedan states that this was hard to wed with the theological concerns of their age, making no reference fact that religious and materialist discourses have continued to overshoot, caricature, and regard one another as irreducibly opposed to this day. For the Stoics, the upshot of the union between supernaturalism and materialism was to conceive of God as a material force or principle that runs through the entirety of materiality. In individual Stoics this God is personalised to a greater or lesser degree. Epictetus is probably the Stoic that personalises God to the greatest extent, referring to Zeus throughout his Discourses and almost sounds like a Christian, if one suspends an awareness of Stoic materialism.

The Stoic God is singular and pantheist, closer to the God of Spinoza than to Plato. Beginning with Zeno of Citium, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, the Stoic conception of divinity is made thoroughly material, identified with nature, and sits within a rigorous physical determinism. Read More

Panic-attack

“He whose eyes happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy.”

Kierkegaard.

This essay will briefly examine the genetic, evolutionary, cognitive (and behavioural), and psychodynamic approaches to the aetiology of panic disorder (PD). Throughout, this essay will attempt to orient the reader to the centrality of bodily experience to any consideration of PD, and will utilise this as a means to sketch a philosophical as well as psychiatric understanding of the disorder. In order to approach this, the body’s relationship to death will be considered, an approach that will be mediated by introducing existential themes from both philosophic and psychological literature. This essay will provide a modest overview of the ground, and serve as the beginning of an attempt to place existing aetiological theory of PD within an understanding of the human being as ontologically vulnerable to the world.

This is not a disinterested essay, and I will not apologise for excluding certain worthwhile and important dimensions of the rise of the experience of and psychiatric responses to panic. To be complete, I would need a more thorough account of technological, social, economic and political upheavals. I think these have been covered pretty thoroughly elsewhere and so for now (but not indefinitely) they won’t be broached at length. Furthermore, this is not a disinterested essay- although it is more academically styled than most of my writing- because I was once in the throes of an undiagnosed panic disorder (my GP providing me with breathing exercises and a few quips about Sartre). When I entered my training in psychiatric nursing, I went in with this experience and a sense that the psychopathology of panic was on the rise. Experiencing panic acutely, I could see manifestations of it and more chronic anxiety all about me in others and in the social fabric itself- nowhere was this more obvious than in the changing architecture and policing of London in the earliest post-9/11 period. Aspects of this essay may be familiar to readers of my other online work. I tend to agree with EM Cioran’s observation that thought is the product of sensation but I disagree that it is a “descent” or a “failure”: rather, thought is so often the obsessive retrieval and retracing of experiences, often archaeological, always a kind of dangerous play or magical ritual. In this way, this essay itself form part of my own therapeutic work: the attempt to articulate the inarticulate.

Read More

‘Men are disturbed not by events, but by their opinion about events.’ Epictetus

Some governments are now providing free psychotherapy to their citizens. Jules Evans asks, ‘Is there a limit to state-sponsored happiness?’

LINK: Their good life: Should the state legislate for individual happiness?

Five years ago, amid intense opposition from some part of the psychotherapeutic profession, the Labour government in the UK launched a programme called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT). It aimed to train 6,000 new therapists in talking therapies — mainly CBT — by 2014, and to treat around one million people a year for depression and anxiety. As Nick McNulty, a therapist in the IAPT centres for Southwark and Lambeth in south London told me: ‘It is the biggest expansion of mental health services anywhere in the world, ever.’

Jules Evans is Policy director at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London; and author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations.

Full text and more: Here