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Socrates

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[this is a draft of a work-in-progress]

PREFACE:

Thinking about existential finitude is one thing, solemn and practical in range, but acknowledging and then living with an awareness of the myriad of blindnesses, biases and otherwise unconscious routines and functions which generate and afford sentient experience is quite another. Increasingly empirical science is suggesting that we often fail to understand just how little we are capable of understanding. “Reason”, logic, intentionality, agency, etc., are all weak conceptual placeholders for much more complex, varied and distributed realities. Human cognition is not an organ for the bequeathing of ‘Truth’, nor the realization of extra-material value and purpose, but a relatively modular capacity that specific types of bodies have for coping with sensory information in differentially structured environments. And it is my contention that becoming aware of the embodied, “bounded” and limited nature of our conscious lives has far reaching consequences for the stories we are willing to tell about the world, how it works, and, more importantly, how we might engage within it.

For me, a move toward praxis via a post-nihilist attitude (a ‘pragmatism’ never content to be defined as such) is about attempts to instantiate varieties of what, following R. Scott Bakker (here), we might call ‘neglect-awareness’ when deploying our all-too-human knowledges. If nihilism is in large part an unraveling of traditional structures of meaning accompanied by the collapse of certainty then scientific suggestions about the limits of human know-ability and its supporting unconscious operations can only serve to intensify the nihilistic tendency. Meaning, value, truth, agency, understanding and consciousness are being exposed as ghost-objects of conceptual association, previously (mis)taken as ontological rather than functional singularities. Our hitherto waywardness in this regard has allowed us to set and accumulate confused and misguided cognitive, existential and practical tasks dangerously disconnected from the autonomous and mostly anonymous life of non-linguistic, non-intentional corporeality. Yet possibilities remain.

In fact there must be ways forward; because life goes on regardless of how we interpret it to be. We are not our semantic mistakes, nor our projected phantasies, but actual bodies in movement and affective relation enacting consequential situations. And so forward we must go into the storm of nihilistic dissolutions and mournings and reactionary impulses seeking to exist, subsist and generate places and spaces of relief for all that we are given and all that we make. We must continue to communicate, scheme, plot, scavenge and design, but only now we do so with a semblance of awareness of what we do not and often cannot know or understand. The problems that plagued our thoughts and consciences – and our practices and institutions – in the past no longer motivate our existential and social projects. We become experimental beings; as much bricoleurs as ever but now consciously so, seeking solutions not truths, assembly not meaning. We thus become post-nihilists by default and necessity.

Socrates was among the first Western philosophers to formulate a maxim around a reflexive awareness of the limitations of human thinking with his equation of wisdom with knowing that one does not know, but many profound thinkers and teachers have also set about to make ‘neglect-awareness’ a central feature of their own philosophical stories: from Siddhartha (the Buddha) and the Gnostics to Nietzsche, William James, Wittgenstein and Derrida. Their works lay among the ruins of all those edifices build by so many other rhetoricians and professional discourse elites. And so finding out what works and what no longer applies after the tyranny of meaning – a tyrannical state of affairs deposed by the logic of sensation and flesh – becomes a salvage operation lead by sadists and psychonauts whose only function now is to rouse and resonate with those huddled minorities no longer enchanted by the sorcery of language.

To be sure, there is no final liberation. We are phantasmic creatures burdened by the weight of our determining biases as much as our cognitive luminescence. And no heroes remain. Not you, not me, not Socrates, not Obama – and none waiting to be born in the clash of necessity or immediacies of human civilization. Idealistic transcenders and promethean consenters must give way to quiet transgressors and frenzied adapters who, being what they are, gather together on alternating occasions for Dionysian celebrations and ritualistic intellectual humiliation.

The past cannot hold us because the urgency of now is intensifying. And the future was not cancelled because it never existed. We creep forward with disdain for all those spoon fed fascinations and lies propping up the contemporary condition. We are the bastard children of Nietzsche – exposed, temperamental and willing to take the practical exigencies of an immanent life to radical extremes.

Alain de Botton is a Swiss/British writer, philosopher, television presenter and entrepreneur, living in the United Kingdom. In the following video series, Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness  de Botton features six influential thinkers by exploring their ideas about the pursuit of the good life:

Episode 1: Socrates on Self-Confidence

Why do so many people go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? Partly because they are too easily swayed by other people’s opinions and partly because they don’t know when to have confidence in their own.

Episode 2: Epicurus on Happiness

British philosopher Alain De Botton discusses the personal implications of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) who was no epicurean glutton or wanton consumerist,but an advocate of “friends, freedom and thought” as the path to happiness.

Episodes 3-6 can be viewed below: 

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‘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