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Metaphysics is a dark ocean without shores or lighthouse, strewn with many a philosophic wreck.” – Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Death Of General Wolfe by Benjamin West.

“Death Of General Wolfe” (1770) by Benjamin West. Image links to 18th century time-line at Wikipedia.

Another post of snippets. Still inter-relating theory and the consequentiality of worldviews.

Language, the giving of names to images, is not itself reasonable, it is the arbitrary precondition of all reasoning:25 the generation of rational knowledge is by words out of experience. The achievement of language is to “register our thoughts,” to fix what is essentially fleeting. And from this achievement follows the possibility of definition, the conjunction of general names, proposition, and rational argument, all of which consist in the “proper use of names in language.” But, though reasoning brings with it knowledge of the general and the possibility of truth and its opposite, absurdity,26 it can never pass beyond the world of names. Reasoning is nothing else but the addition and subtraction of names, and “gives us conclusions, not about the nature of things, but about the names of things. That is to say, by means of reason we discover only whether the connections we have established between names are in accordance with the arbitrary convention we have established concerning their meanings.”27

This is at once a nominalist and a profoundly sceptical doctrine. Truth is of universals, but they are names, the names of images left over from sensations; and a true proposition is not an assertion about the real world. We can, then, surmount the limits of sense-experience and achieve rational knowledge; and it is this knowledge, with its own severe limitations, that is the concern of philosophy.

From Michael Oakshott. Hobbes on Civil Association, foreword by Paul Franco (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).

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It can be said that select philosophers provided the armature upon which Nation State identities have been modelled. From theology to economics and from the common vernacular to the human rights we now refer to as a model for justice. State apparatus are forever re-affirming and implementing national identities. Building into structures and systems with aims of carving and polishing a preferred national culture. It is no accident that our populations still espouse Enlightenment attitudes. It is not coincidental that we continue to argue about many of the very same issues.

A series of MP3 Chapter Summaries on The Age of Enlightenment: Reason and Reform.
U.S. Declaration of Independence John Trumbull.

Part of “Signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence” (1819) by John Trumbull. Image links to declaration transcripts.

Also this quick explanatory video provided below. It’s worth noting that The Enlightenment, or The Age of Reason, and Humanism have been defined nearly exclusively through the (masculinist and bigoted) process of writing Western European histories. An especially prudent reminder where words like ‘the first to’ and ‘invented’ are concerned. What concepts were new to name and classify, for members of these sparse inter-relating communities, were not necessarily original in the history of the topographical world. Instead the ‘whole world’ referred to societies inhabiting a tiny corner of the globe.

It stands to reason that the most privileged men would be among the most influential thinkers. Socialized by way of strict life-long educations that were intended to cultivate the ideal personage of their day. Religion and social etiquette, the arts and the sciences, a patron and access to a printing press. If not reared to do so, specifically, then soon enough aspiring as a competitor among that small population of their peers. Some ambling to repay patronage, some aiming to generate an inheritable legacy for their children, and others ever vying to improve their families’ enduring fortunes.

Now, the element of unreality in the argument so far is not that the solitary, whose character we have been considering, is an abstraction and does not exist (he does exist and he is the real individual man), but that he does not exist alone. This fact, that there is more than one of his kind, must now be recognized; we must turn from the nature of man to consider the natural condition of man. And it is at this point that the predicament of mankind becomes apparent; for, apart from mortality, the character of the solitary man presents nothing that could properly be called a predicament.

The existence of others of his kind, and the impossibility of escaping their company, is the first real impediment in the pursuit of felicity; for another man is necessarily a competitor. This is no mere observation, though its effects may be seen by any candid observer; it is a deduction from the nature of felicity. For, whatever appears to a man to belong to his felicity he must strive for with all his powers, and men who strive for the possession of the same object are enemies of one another. Moreover, he who is most successful will have the most enemies and be in the greatest danger. To have built a house and cultivated a garden is to have issued an invitation to all others to take it by force, for it is against the common view of felicity to weary oneself with making what can be acquired by less arduous means.

And further, competition does not arise merely when two or more happen to want the same thing, for when a man is among others of his kind his felicity is not absolute but comparative; and since a large part of it comes from a feeling of superiority, of having more than his fellow, the competition is essential, not accidental. There is, at best, a permanent potential enmity between men, “a perpetual contention for Honour, Riches, and Authority.”

From Michael Oakshott. Hobbes on Civil Association, foreword by Paul Franco (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).

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Whether for the status of genius, or for an influential role in the establishment, there had been a perpetual aligning and maligning under monarchical authorities. The tension in this rearing and socialization and sculpting of identity resonates throughout the epoch’s contemplation of human nature. The nobility’s own, even smaller, circuit of rivalry with in-breading relatives were at the same time competing for a predominating colonial expansion.

The rights of the occupant of the sovereign office are those which the covenanters confer upon him. They are the right to rule and the right to enjoy the support of those who, in the agreement, have created themselves Subjects. These rights are both limited and unconditional. The covenanters have not surrendered their right to pursue felicity; they have surrendered only their right each to do this unconditionally, or (which is the same thing) on conditions which each decides for himself. But the rights with which they have endowed the sovereign are not retractable, and since he is not himself a party to any agreement he does not “bear their persons” on condition that he observes the terms of an agreement. Nor may any man exclude himself from the condition of Subject, on the grounds that he did not himself assent to the covenant, without declaring himself an “outlaw” and forfeiting the protection of the sovereign. The right to rule is the right to be the sole judge of what is necessary for the peace and security of subjects.

From Michael Oakshott. Hobbes on Civil Association, foreword by Paul Franco (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).

Native Territories Immigrant Internment Slavery

Colonial acquisitions and the labour of progress.

Flush with a new cache of natural resources and exotic goods, a then growing merchant class began rallying for freedom-from this authority and freedom-to keep more of their profits. Which were, otherwise, ear-marked to fund the foreign invasions and previously established but ongoing wars.

This freedom-from conception of individual liberty then became the unifying cry by way of spiritual and moral and then also economic reasoning and, in time…. Most of everyone would remain either directly or systematically employed in the plight to secure liberties, but for the educated and industrialists alone.

“The consent of the governed is central to Locke’s portrayal of just political societies. The only way that a person can divest himself of his natural liberty is to agree to do so in order to join a community that secures comfort, safety, peaceful living, and property rights. Such a civil society is contrasted with American Indians as in a state of nature since “there is no government at all.” For Locke, the New World constituted the realization of the state of nature not as a theoretical starting point or a hypothetical precondition for civil society but as a lived reality. America is likened to the early uncivilized stages of Asia and Europe. Locke viewed American Indian culture as disorderly and uncivilized. Locke argues that given the correspondence between the state of nature and disorder the true “liberty of man in society” can only be established by subordination to a higher authority, obtained when individuals voluntarily gave up the “state of nature” and put “themselves into society.”Consensually giving up one’s natural freedom becomes the true freedom of living under a social contract, the building block of a civil society. In a Lockean view, the superiority of the English as a civil people was a sound defense for the efficacy of English imperialism and colonialism.”

From “John Locke and The Myth of Race in America: DeMythologizing the Paradoxes of The Enlightenment as visited in the present” by Theresa Richardson of Ball State University.

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Monarchical theory re-interpreted, on the one hand, in service to an alternative ideology. A perpetual evolution of incompatible practices, in service to a worldview, on the other hand. No historical vacuum; there is indeed a thread of continuity. Not in the Will of a people but by way of a societal genealogy. Indeed. Many families’ inherited wealth can still, today, be traced back to the industrialization of the so-called New World.

Connecting the dots from strains of thought to the co-creation of worldly realities. It isn’t oft enough emphasized in educational context but. We nonetheless need recall the originating motivations and the history of peoples not named. Whom were not intended to be inheritors but the still-royal-subjects of an upper class reform. In order to better comprehend what is implied by the words we string together from the political platform. In order to truly understand how a manner of thinking can become what gets done. In order to learn from the past and to grasp the implications of present doctrines.

The basis of individual rights lies in property. Property is not merely material acquisition—it is central to an individual’s assertion of identity and personality. Property is an expression of self and the locus of an individual’s claim to rights, since it is through property that one can say “this is mine,” a claim that others respect. Property is the “embodiment of personality,” says Hegel. The system of private property establishes individuality and personality through contract and exchange. Contract establishes ownership through institutionalized norms of mutual respect of individual rights and obligations. Economic life governed by free exchange of commodities is based on an institutionalized notion of the individual as having some claim to recognition as a right-bearing person.

From a summary of Philosophy of Right, I–II: Abstract Right and Morality – A section in the entry for Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831) at Sparknotes online. Also see: “Property and Personhood” by Margaret Jane Radin, Stanford Law Review, v. 34, p. 957 (may 1982).

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And so. We ought to remember that very many of these men were, at the time, speaking among themselves. Not speaking up for likes of the rest of us. Many generations of philosophical ‘discourse‘ were to come yet before others would be permitted the acknowledged title of Persons. That said. The corporation was designated precisely this status and relatively swiftly upon initial appeal. Telling; is it not?

Social Darwinism in The Age of Reason

Scientific justification for exploitation. To this day, a rational deflection of accountability excuses industrial slave labour.

It as true today, as in yesteryear, that when a population absorbs elite ideals they then also grow to expect the same entitlements. They shall view this inequality as unjust. As ‘the youth today’ of every new generation can attest. By way of their expectations and. Through an ongoing struggle to be seen, heard, and identified, an evolving conception of Persons and Personhood continues to underwrite even our most dated laws.

What is perhaps most unique to Western culture(s) is the extent to which the freedom-from oppression imposes upon a freedom-to eat, sleep, work, play, have sex or get married or not, be educated or specialized or not, have medical care or the security to retire etc etc. So radical a freedom-from dependencies actually undermine acknowledgement of inter-dependencies and, ironically, inhibits our freedom-to flourish together.

Sadly. This still living philosophy also includes the egoist principals underpinning the rights of that earlier propertied class. So culturally ingrained is the drive to exceptionalize that shared interests now seem too risky to wager. Too soft, too sentimental, too flaky, too idealistic. Not realistic or so it’s said. As it was for these men shaking loose the yolk of an exclusive monarchical sovereignty… The systemic norms of our specific time and place are mistakenly perceived as the best that humanity ever could have known or achieved.

With the dusk of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the modern era, individualism gradually began as a way of adapting to the new socio-economico-political conditions in Europe. And, henceforth, it evolved into socio-economico-political doctrines, expressive of one’s independence, self-reliance, self-determination, and, hence, individuality. In general, individualism gives primacy to the individual over what opposes her or his individuality, be it a social institution or the state. Also, this new way of adapting to life under the new circumstances found diverse expressions, not always in agreement with each other, in the ethical views of philosophers such as the French philosophes, Immanuel Kant, W.G.F. Hegel, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, and etc. The word “individuality” (derived from Latin word indīviduus, meaning “not dividable” or “inseparable”) is commonly stipulated as the state or quality of being an individual, who exists as a distinct entity and possesses sum total of qualities and characteristics that distinguishes the individual from others.

From: A brief intellectual history of Individualism by Omid Maleki at Philossophy.

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To the extent that. The most of us aren’t even really sure anymore ‘what it takes’ to survive well-enough to demand something more or less. A fear of change thereby stands in for a sense of possibility. And. We’re all very busy just try’n to get keep-up because. There’s but the solitary ‘Me’ ‘Myself’ and ‘I’ and the necessity to compete. The latter more recently described as efficient, otherwise referred to as productive, and previously coined the ‘protestant work ethic’. Here again is evidence of a worldview out-living and further veiling it’s metaphysical origins.

The age of reason & child labour.

Child labour in the 1800’s.

Individualism is one of the hallmarks of Western philosophy and civilization. No other intellectual tradition has been as intensively (some would say: excessively) preoccupied with singling out and defining the individual self than Western philosophy, and no other polity has made the presumed rights and prerogatives of the individual as central a concern as Western societies. Individualism is as defining a characteristic of our present civilization as capitalism, materialism, technology, and global expansion…Cartesian Dualism also prepared the way for modern scientists to think about the world in abstractions….

The shift away from variety and sensuous detail to abstract entities and structures did much to increase human control over the natural world, but it also alienated the observer from the things observed. It replaced the closeness of touching, smelling, or seeing with the distance of mathematical calculation. And it facilitated the conquest of reality by the mind in the way it was intuited by Descartes’ radical separation of the mind from the world.

… For if it is possible to doubt the existence of the external world, it is equally possible to doubt the existence of other human beings. If rivers and mountains or the desk at which I write may be figments of my imagination, then obviously the people that I perceive in this world may be imaginary as well.

From: Descartes : The Solitary Self by Jorn K. Bramann.

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Culturally; now we traverse the folds of time and we understand that a parcel of worldviews shall be left behind. So fused with issues of identity that. There is panic. As are there now fundamentalist revitalization movements abound. A clinging to the political personae of that which was once simply a motivating idea, a metaphysical line of inquiry, touted all those years ago. It’s not merely that twin towers fell or that a new world war began. Nor are economic explanations the least as sound as is insisted upon. Not unto itself; I think not.

Beneath it all something more intimate and pervasive holds sway: The reverberating shatter of worldviews too displaced and dissociated from the wider and more mutual realities of time and place. Challenging and thus exposing already-fissures in a particularity of habit. A cultural method, derived from an embodied inscription, for perceiving one’s self among others.

In short, I suspect, we are living in the crisis of being ill-equipped for crisis as persons. Un-acculturated for the collaborative task. Through the generations moulded; into the exceptional properties comprising a State. Which is foremost inclined, with us readied-to-its-avail, to concern itself with competing among other States. What the merchants and mercenaries were to the monarchies but on a much larger, and technologically enveloping, scale. Of course, control of all the resources in the world won’t protect an equality that has yet to exist so. There can be no further delaying the necessity of these growing pains; there is no veritable escape clause. Whether mind over matter, or likewise exclusionary, we are confronted and do grapple with the complex contradictions of our age.

And. Individuation isn’t actually the same thing as Individualism.

Untangling the relationship between Selfhood and Personhood is a much confused process and our inquiry into the matter is in it’s infancy. While growing-up isn’t easy, it’s not an altogether a bad thing either. Brings with it awareness of accountability and. A much deeper and more inclusive feeling-sensing-intuitively-cognate understanding of what it really means to function as the selves of a society.

Certainly. The time has long since come that we leave The Enlightenment to the annals of colonial history and behold that which is already becoming. Insecure though it may be; we do live in an eventful and nonetheless inspiring time of metamorphosis. What better time to contemplate ‘what then?’ is possible and how.

An animated proposal that touches upon some of these issues… Though stated more palatably, and still flirting with a too vaguely technocratic definition of past ‘progress’, it does also pose just the right sorts of questions about the same. RSA Animate – 21st Century Enlightenment:

One last snippet for the day. Introducing another, more contemporary, perspective on the ‘problem of identity’:

Enlightenment values presume an independent self, the rational citizen and consumer who pursues her self-interests. Since Hume, however, Enlightenment empiricists have questioned the existence of a discrete, persistent self. Today, continuing that investigation, neuroscience is daily eroding the essentialist model of personal identity. Transhumanism has yet to come to grips with the radical consequences of the erosion of the liberal individualist subject for projects of enhancement and longevity. Most transhumanist thought still reflects an essentialist idea of personal identity, even as we advance projects of radical cognitive enhancement that will change every element of consciousness. How do ethics and politics change if personal identity is an arbitrary, malleable fiction?

Contradictions of the Enlightenment: Liberal Individualism versus the Erosion of Personal Identity by J. Hughs.

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