Understanding Art and Human Potential

In its origins, the term “art” was not absolutely distinguished from skill and the application of skill in craftsmanship. This separation, while it allows us greater linguistic precision, ultimately clouds over insights which would otherwise have been more readily available to reason.

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Art, in the sense of fine arts, was originally theorized in terms of mimesis, or the imitation and representation of nature. From this one can take a simple step further and posit an art of deliberate replication of certain aspects of nature. Returning to the original compound of the term, one could find an analogue in farming or gardening as the replication of natural goods by knowledgeable application. Already, one should be able to gather stirrings that, though it is largely concealed to modern minds, contemplating our relation to art can give us significant insights into the human relation to the world.

Nature, farming, and gardening are favourite examples and metaphors of mine as well as common subjects for artists in general. This is not simply by chance. The contemplation of nature not only allows us to contemplate our more direct relation to the world and existence, but is significant on more practical terms as well, as the natural environment is also our source of resources including food and building materials.

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But art, and craft writ large, has also brought about our separation from nature through mediated devices, tools, and constructions based on principles abstracted from their organic growth in nature.

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In order to facilitate thinking about our new constructed relationship to the world, a myth about early human society is in order: In the early times, humanity lived exposed in the landscape. They had not yet developed the techniques to shield themselves from the dangers of the world aside from the exercise of their own physical prowess. Nor could they grow the food needed to survive but instead were forced to set out into the wild and hunt or gather whatever they could find. Those who returned told the others of their tribes about they things they had seen, what to look for and what to avoid. They made drew pictures on the walls of caves to illustrate their meaning to those who listened and preserve the knowledge for successive generations. This, in our myth, is the origin of a formal system of recording and education.

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Now we must turn to the central concern of art, which is beauty. Apply this to our consideration of the subject of nature. The most basic characteristic of beautiful nature would be a lush and fertile landscape, the opposite a barren and desolate one, naturally because the one is a supporter of life and the other an image of lack and deficiency. Another common example and subject for art is a fine physical form. The ideal for the human form is a representation of health and strength and harbours the promise of capability. A clumsy or incompetent person is not considered beautiful, unless perhaps because their representation is intended to express a different principle, such as merriment or a desire to bring ease or understanding to those and the community of those who carry heavy burdens and sometimes falter under their weight.

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There is a potential for a deeper understanding of art and beauty to transform common world into something greater. In order to illustrate what I mean, I would like to comment on some landscapes and indicate where the potential lies. These are two pictures which have been used to express the potential of environmental cities which integrate nature into built environments:

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While I appreciate the intentions, I do not think that these landscapes show the full capabilities which the principles I am discussing entail. Here is a picture of the historical industry landscape built in the early 20th century in a town in Sweden:

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My intention in showing the above image is to show that aesthetic principles need not necessarily be divorced from industrial construction. Finally, here is an image of an English landscape garden:

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The reason I am showing this garden is because the English, during the 18th century, developed principles of architecture to include consideration of landscape organization, including considerations such as sightlines and harmonizing elements of the landscape. These are principles which are already developed, codified and mathematically reproducible and have been already countless times. Only will and vision has been lacking to combine these principles and even others such as permaculture to form a new kind of landscape.

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The reason that I think the human environment is so important is because it is the arena of human life and action. It is in our lived environment, present immediately when we leave our door, that all our potential for being in the world exists.

What I most wish to impart is that the principles of beauty are far from a frivolous excess. What is a frivolous excess is destroying natural habitats for the sake of unbounded accumulation of wealth in the abstract.

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Wealth only ever has value in relation to those concrete goods which can be had for our wealth, and as I am labouring to exhibit here, the principle of beauty can account for practical and necessary goods as well those which are good for the spirit or morale.

It is of utmost importance that the immediate association between art and entertainment be severed. True art is capable of illuminating what is truly important to us, whether it be love for our family, union with a beloved, or the passionate pursuit for what one believes in, against odds and opposition.

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What must be made clear is that people have power if only they engage with the world directly and do not allow themselves to be passive or passively used to work and expend their effort to shape the world into a state which even they would not desire to see come into being. The value of freedom lies not in the pursuit of empty pleasures but the ability to decide what one feels is important and not be constrained by the arbitrary will of another.

The world is in need of passionate individuals who will take up the burden of fate with courage and determination. Do not despise or pity those who make sacrifices or fail in pursuit of their ideals but see in them instead the purest expression of human potential.

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If you liked this post and want more insights on art and beauty, consider reading my previous post The Key to Purpose

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The Key to Purpose

My previous posts, The Central Importance of Beauty and Some Thoughts on Purpose in Life may contribute to understanding this post or provide extra insights.


In his work On Grace and Dignity, Schiller recounts how the Greek myths held that Venus, the goddess of Beauty, wore a belt which granted her Grace. It was a belt which she could remove and lend to others. From this point Schiller infers that the Greeks held Grace and Beauty to be separate things.

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Grace was a possession of Beauty, but one which was transferable even to that which was not itself Beautiful and subsequently receives the power of Grace to charm. Thus, according to the Greeks, Schiller maintained, Grace was then a form of changeable, that is non-eternal, Beauty.

Yet the belt of Grace, distinct from other ornaments, is intended to confer Grace objectively and not a merely charming appearance. This expressed by the magical nature of the belt, which sets it apart from ordinary ornamentation. The representation of this quality in what is formally a mere ornament was necessary only to depict the manner in which one can part with Grace, even if one possesses Beauty, as in the case of Venus, and thus lose their charm. Schiller explains this representational necessity as a means for the artist to depict that which is metaphysical, namely, in this instance, Grace.

If Grace is a changeable characteristic, then it must be a kind of movement, Schiller holds, as movement is the only change which can occur in an object which does not change the identity of that object. Movement satisfies the criteria of belonging to an object without being a mere illusion of perception.

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Schiller then distinguishes Beauty which arises spontaneously from nature from that Beauty which arises intentionally from the human will based on judgement. To the first belongs Beauty of form, but a subtle differentiation must be made between the form itself and the perfection of that form through purposeful action. Examples of the latter would be a healthy and capable body, through exercise becoming a strong, dexterous, or supple body, or a pleasing voice through training becoming capable of expressing blissful melody.

It is human intelligence which allows man to grasp the purposive and give meaning to life through goal and intention. The intelligence grasps this purpose by determining that which is Beautiful and seeks to bring it into the world. One would thus correctly say that purpose cannot be grasped through the senses but must rather be conceived through the mind but that Beauty is the indication whereby the mind may become aware that the purpose of a thing is present.

In order to judge the purpose revealed in Beautiful things one must first grasp the capabilities, functions, or interaction of the Beautiful qualities of the thing, even, in the case of the last, with other things.

There are two ways in which knowledge of Beauty becomes accessible to reason. The first is by an account of those qualities and relations inherent in the Beautiful object which make it so. The second is attributed to the object, as essence, effect, benefits, etc. It is by the first that one discovers the principle of Beauty and by the second that one discovers the potential for Beauty, and thus for man to actualize through deliberate and wilful action.

This dichotomy explains the difference of opinions and taste as regards to Beauty, as in the latter case of the knowledge of Beauty reason is needed rather than experience only of the object. Because it is through reason that phenomenal experience is transformed into potential, the locus of limited potential in the considering subject will impact the final judgement of the object, even if reason develops the initial conception.

But the mind attuned to Beauty and which seeks to manifest or perfect the Beautiful will have a mind to Harmony. The elements of a garden are not in Harmony when those elements which are antithetical to the garden are present, such as parking lots, warehouses or rubble, or when the elements within the garden clash, distract or impinge upon each other. In the same way, Graceful movement is out of Harmony with a stumble, or a hostile family is not in concord, concord being a synonym for Harmony. Thus, despite differences in the locus of perspective within the subject, no conception of Beauty is free to violate the principle of Harmony without transforming into its opposite.

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An exception must be made with regards to the subject which faces an external disharmony. While, if the subject is still intent on what is best, namely Beauty, then the ultimate ends of action is Beauty and thus the pursuit of Harmony, yet if the subject becomes embroiled in disharmony through outside momentum, that disharmony is not to reflect upon the subject but rather a factor of circumstance which he or she must strive like a titan to overcome, subdue, and render to the status of Harmony.

It is this final achievement of being in Harmony, of acting in Harmony, which is called Grace, and not yet or merely in desiring or seeking Harmony. As Grace has often been understood as a gift, so it is the blessing of achieving Harmony. But as the world is subject to change through time, growth and the motion of all elements in the world, Harmony, and the Grace which is its blessing, are subject to change are require the action of care, or cultivation which is the root of culture which in its true sense signifies those qualities which express, aid, or point the way to Beauty.

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The Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns

The quarrel of the ancients and moderns began during the Renaissance and took the form of a debate between scholars over the nature of wisdom which should guide thinkers and indeed the times.

This debate is framed in a number of manners, some more misleading than others.  Sometimes it is framed as a debate between reason and authority, wherein reason is on the side of the moderns who seek to shrug off arbitrary constraints on knowledge, particularly from the church. This takes the shape particularly in the developing scientific methods of empiricism first codified by Francis Bacon and ultimately perfected by the implementation of a mathematical and deductive method by René Descartes. The exemplary argument on behalf of this position was to point at modern technological developments.

At other times it was framed as a moral debate wherein Niccolo Machiavelli arises as an important figure who held that Europe had become Christianized in such a way that, despite the ethical systems of the ancients being superior, the scholar must work with the material on hand. This moral difference was more radically expressed by Francois Rabelais who, contrary to Machiavelli, came down on the side of the ‘modern’ Christians and wrote in his novel Gargantua, “These are no longer times when you can go around conquering Christian kingdoms and inflicting injuries on your brothers in Christ. To imitate the ancients in that way—Hercules, Alexander, Hannibal, Scipio, and the Caesars and all the others—is directly contrary to what the Bible teaches us.” (Chpt. 46)

The modern, Christian, man’s key virtue was humility. This is explained most thoroughly by Nietzsche throughout many of his works but nowhere so explicit as in The Anti-Christ:

We should not deck out and embellish Christianity: it has waged a war to the death against this higher type of man, it has put all the deepest instincts of this type under its ban, it has developed its concept of evil, of the Evil One himself, out of these instincts—the strong man as the typical reprobate, the “outcast among men.” Christianity has taken the part of all the weak, the low, the botched; it has made an ideal out of antagonism to all the self-preservative instincts of sound life; it has corrupted even the faculties of those natures that are intellectually most vigorous, by representing the highest intellectual values as sinful, as misleading, as full of temptation. (Section 5)

Again I remind you of Paul’s priceless saying: “And God hath chosen the weak things of the world, the foolish things of the world, the base things of the world, and things which are despised” (Section 51)

Machiavelli also understood the change brought about by the shift from the ancient religion of the Romans to Christianity. In the Discourses he writes:

[W]hile the highest good of the old religions consisted in magnanimity, bodily strength, and all those other qualities which make men brave, our religion places it in humility, lowliness, and contempt for the things of this world; or if it ever calls upon us to be brave, it is that we should be brave to suffer rather than to do. (Book II Chpt. II)

Still Machiavelli held out the hope that the European Christians could be morally transformed. It was not until Thomas Hobbes entirely reversed the valuation and made it the basis for effective governance:

And amongst the Passions, Courage, (by which I mean the Contempt of Wounds, and violent Death) enclineth men to private Revenges, and sometimes to endeavour the unsetling of the Publique Peace; And Timorousnesse, many times disposeth to the desertion of the Publique Defence. Both these they say cannot stand together in the same person. (Leviathan, A Review, And Conclusion)

Hobbes, writing at the time of the English Civil War, saw the instilment of humility, the fear of death, desire for peace and promotion of bourgeois values and the pursuit of trade as the means for maintaining order and the authority of the sovereign.

Ultimately, Europe has followed the path of the moderns. It maintains the value of science while simultaneously arguing that values cannot objectively be discovered due to the fact-value distinction. All the while values are nonetheless imposed upon the peoples in the West which have deep philosophical roots and far-reaching civilizationational implications.

Notre-Dame Burning, or The Future of Europe

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French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to pledge himself towards the rebuilding of the damaged part of the cathedral, changing the topic of a pre-planned speech he meant to hold on the subject of the yellow vests.

Reaction to this disaster was quick and widespread, with many eulogizing on the meaning and importance of the cathedral as a symbol of France and indeed for all of Europe. An artefact of medieval and Christian Europe, immortalized by Victor Hugo as both a national symbol in the Romantic spirit and as a commemoration of the past of a people and a country.

Such rifts in the continuity of a people’s fate have the potential of revealing insights into nature of the present. The tragic nature of this event was capable of briefly covering over the disharmony within France, particularly the disaffection aroused by the President and the direction in which he is taking the country. Instead the people are unified in a ritual of national mourning directed towards a commonly cherished past whose destruction is dramatically visualized before their eyes. But is Macron’s pledge to rebuild the cathedral also a pledge to reknit the fraying threads of national unity and disintegration of national tradition?

Europe’s Current Political Climate

The past half decade in Europe has been characterized by a number of political conflicts, notably the migrant crisis, Brexit accompanied by broader disharmony within the EU, the Greek government-debt crisis. Common are warnings about extremism from both the media and political establishment and criticisms about mismanagement from anti-establishment voices reflected in the election of “populist” governments and the aforementioned yellow vest moment. Similarly, there is talk of deep political polarization in the USA and concern that general partisanship is endangering discussion between opposing political factions which increasingly see each other as “communists”, “globalists” (or “Marxists”) and “fascists”.

What is lacking is any clear value by which to orient themselves and strive in the world. The EU official states their values to be the “respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law“. All of these values are either negative values or at very most values which intentionally lack an imperative. The two exceptions are the stated value of equality and the right to education as declared in the EU’s charter of fundamental human rights.

These exceptions must be qualified by the explanation that equality in this context means equal treatment by political, legal, and social institutions and the right to education is qualified within the charter with “due respect for democratic principles and the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious, philosophical and pedagogical convictions shall be respected, in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of such freedom and right”. There is in the latter statement intended a validation of democratic and parental self-determination.

In fact, all of these values are in some fashion or another intended to facilitate self-determination, as even rule of the law is intended to facilitate the freedom of self-determination in the sense of the classical formula as freedom to do what one wishes so long as it does not interfere with another’s freedom.

I have not outlined the values expressed by the EU for the sake of either censure or approval. Nonetheless I wish to illustrate the fact that they lack guidance on what ends one is to exercise one’s freedom in accomplishing. This is left entirely up to individuals in their daily affairs and nations through the established political process.

Returning to the symbol of Notre-Dame. The cathedral was not a representation of undefined self-determination, but very concrete values, whether they be the notion of beauty which guided the building’s formation or those of Christianity, which was indeed already a unifying mechanism for Europe throughout the middle ages, centred around the catholic church.

A guiding value need not be an authoritarian imperative. To assume so is to assume a false alternative. A guiding value may take the form of a common goal which may unite a divided people.

Macron has also been vocal in his calls for deeper integration in Europe centred around the idea of a common European army and greater alignment of national economic policies. These proposals are similarly misguided. Not because they are necessarily and inherently flawed, a question on which I will currently refrain from judgement, but because they entail the same lack of purpose from which Europe is currently suffering. Business, besides potentially giving one a livelihood, says nothing about what one is to do with that livelihood, and likewise existential defence says nothing about what to do with the existence which is sustained.

One may reason and argue as long as one wishes for the necessity of such policies for the continued existence of the European Union, but without clear and defined values, all such reasons could fall on deaf ears if those who would hear them are already motivated by values and goals in which the EU plays no or even an antagonistic role.

This is the existential issue with which Europe deals and, as I have taken previous steps to outline, has dealt with since the turn of the turn of the twentieth century.

If you would like to hear my opinion on how to build a way forward then please check out my post on The Central Importance of Beauty.

‘The Far-Left’, ‘The Far-Right’ and The Decline of the West

Are the ideas of the ‘far-left’ or the ‘far-right’ the inheritors and continuators of the Western philosophical tradition? The answer is, perhaps oddly, that both are.

Plato puts into the mouth of Socrates the injunction ‘Do good to friends and do harm to no one’. He also teaches that the one who is just should put justice into the souls of others. These ideas are spread over a number of his works, notably Protagoras and Gorgias. While there are certainly grounds for argument over what Plato actually intends as his doctrine, whether in reference to his entire corpus or indications of esotericism in his doctrine, what is important is that these ideas have entered into the philosophical tradition.

Alternately there is the teaching of Homer which holds that prowess, great deeds and one’s ancestry is that which is admirable. Even the teaching of Aristotle holds a doctrine which holds that some are slaves by nature, and that the best and happiest man is one of sufficient power and excellence to be magnanimous which made them both deserving of praise and justified in a natural pride.

Ancillary connections to the Western philosophical tradition should suffice indicate how these ideas might develop over time, for example the entrance of Christianity into Europe which extolled virtues of charity and compassion, alternately both defence and encomiums made on behalf of aristocracy and monarchy or the formulation of Social Darwinist ideas. Add to this equation the French Revolution, its predecessors, supporters and critics, the early Utopian Socialists and the Conservative Revolutionary Movement in Germany and you will be gravitating much closer to the present state of ideas.

But there is a deeper issue at stake in the future of the West which, perhaps oddly for some, is rather the concern of those labelled ‘far-right’, though the far-left is deeply implicated. Since at least the late 19th century, what is called in cultural history the Fin de Siècle (and arguably earlier), there was in Europe a concern with the degeneration of the people and the culture. The reasons given for this perceived degeneration are multiple and sometimes not mutually exclusive. They can include rapid urbanization, loss of religion belief and with it self-certainty, an excess of luxury giving rise to lethargy and decadence. It was as an heir to these ideas that Oswald Spengler, a Conservative Revolutionary thinker and formulator of national socialist ideas, wrote that, in light of a theory that civilizations were akin to living organisms, Western Civilization was reaching the end of its natural lifespan.

The issue facing the West is generally taken as something deeper today and often posed as a conflict between forces which stand, knowingly or not, either for the bolstering of an unjust system or an active force try to corrupt and undermine a culture and a people. These are crude characterisations of the ‘far-left’ and the ‘far-right’ respectively. (Note that I put ” around ‘far-left’ and ‘far-right’ partly because neither might accept either the denotation of left/right and partly because what is considered extreme can change depending on generally accepted discourse.)

I want to now address why I said above that there is an issue for the future of the West which concerns the ‘far-right’, because to some it might seem particularly strange as the ideas circulating in that cultural sphere are even more remote for the average person than those circulating on the left.

First, the image of the West is in some ways naturally conservative, because it denotes history and traditions which are to some degree crystallized in the past and would be out of a kind of reverence progressed today rather than abandoned for the sake of alternate ideas and traditions. This is also why some are being labelled as right-wing who do not believe the label to be accurate (for example because they proclaim that they support Enlightenment ideas or Classical Liberalism).

Then there is the conception and concomitant value placed on power. Every organism, people, society, and civilization must possess some degree of power if it is to survive, flourish, or succeed in attaining its ends. This includes the power or ability to obtain and consume resources, the power to influence others, and so on. This is not unique to either the left or the right.

The crux of the matter lies in the way power is evaluated by the opposing political and philosophical doctrines as well as in a formulation of natural right. Again, for the sake of brevity, to give a very crude and perhaps misleading formulation of the difference, the conception of natural right on the left would be more akin to the doctrine of human rights, that everyone has the right to life and liberty, but also to not be taken advantage of or oppressed which would be a breach of justice. On the right, and by the right I mean the ‘far-right’, the notion of justice would be something more akin to might-makes-right. In order to give that more nuance, the position does not necessarily have to hold that one is ‘justified’ by might, but rather only sees that, by nature, it is only through the power or ability to attain something that one can achieve it at all, and so that power or ability is valued in itself, and calls of injustice would only be sublimated expressions of a will-to-power which uses inverted values to attain goods from the one with the natural power or ability to obtain the desired good in the first place.

So how does this pertain to the current state of Western Civilization and feudal politics (some may already have been able to connect the dots)? The short answer is that there is a conflict being waged over the inheritance of that civilization, particularly on material terms, but even on the level of culture wherein particularly classic expressions of Western culture are held to be inherent expressions of various injustice, and new cultural expressions are advocated as being more just, inclusive, or however you will express it.

But if I trace the ideas of the ‘far-left’ to the Western tradition, how can their ascendancy indicate a death of the civilization which is the bearer of that tradition? The answer is twofold. First, the redistribution of material inheritance to parties which stand outside or opposed to that tradition means stripping Western Civilization of its material base. Second, the devaluation of that tradition by its reinterpretation as inherently unjust and the replacement of cultural forms with expressions or representations foreign to that tradition (including peoples, as in a cultural product the people become a signifier), the tradition would incrementally be replaced by something else (i.e. something outside of that civilization).

This is where I will conclude the post. My intention in writing it was to explain the oppositions taking place and indicate the grounds being fought over.

Addendum (Apr. 18, 2019)

The Right, and that includes its racial doctrines which they would more likely consider as something like ethnos, holds that there is a spirit of a people and it would be on the basis of that shared spirit that they could instinctually communicate, relate and sympathize with each other. Where this comes back to the role of mythology, the mythology is something like a religion of the ancestors or a spiritiual history of the people. By spiritual history would be intended something like, the representation of a people’s history as well as their deepest values can be expressed by the symbolic relations of their art. It isn’t that far removed from the ideas of mythology (the study of myths) for example the Greek goddess Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home and veneration of Hestia would be a veneration of the ideal of a home (which includes one’s dwelling, country, etc.) which is sort of a sublimation of the concrete home of the people.

Some Thoughts on Purpose in Life

When asking the question about the meaning or purpose of human life, one must be clear about what humans are capable of. A meaningful account of human capability cannot assert that humans are capable of anything or anything they can imagine, because in reality we always operate within limits of circumstances, qualities, and effects.

What I mean by that is that as humans we have certain biological qualities and the world has certain physical qualities and forms, and all of the elements in existence have a given way of interacting with each other. Even if one wishes to change biology, there are not only certain limits to such a possibility but a set of necessary procedures which must take place in order to enact a change.

All of that is to say, human purpose, if there is to be a purpose at all, whether innate or self-given, must be within the realms of the potential. This can be taken a step further by relating it to what Heidegger calls ‘thrownness’ (Geworfenheit). Your purpose, and the purpose of every living human at any given time, is also necessarily in a relationship with your specific circumstances.

These circumstances can be understood in degrees. It can be understood in terms of the knowledge and skills you currently possess, the temporal location you currently inhabit, the qualities of the society you currently inhabit, the means within that society to accomplish various acts as well as the degree to which you personally are capable of utilizing those means, and so on in this manner.

In this sense, so far from our potential and our purpose being an astounding ‘anything’, it is in truth quite limited.

I would like to change gears for a moment and mention some things of relevance to life in industrial and post-industrial societies. Life and potential in these societies is to a large extent shaped by policies which seek to channel human effort and exertion. The most apparent form of this is through a regular life course through the school system which not only sets the tasks which will be performed but also the extent of the information which a student will be exposed to.

A student at school does not simply learn a set of skills and acquire a base of information which can subsequently be freely applied to a receptive environment. Not only curriculums but the manner in which students are taught are intended to be matched to pre-existing conditions and institutions within society. This in turn contributes to a process of autopoiesis, or societal self-replication.

The implication to which I am pointing in the above consideration is that, within the limits of human potential, a society, through its decision-making structures which are then applied in its institutions, makes value judgements about which information about the world will be imbued to coming generations as well as which skills can be most valuably applied by them in the world.

The school system is, of course, not the only way in which humans and in particular children gain knowledge and skills which impact their subsequent self-direction in the world, but it is surely the most prominent and organized mode of teaching and social organization in respect to the early stages of development.

Much more could be said about various institutions in society, laws, regulations, effects of various taxes, as well as about the influence and impact of parenting strategies and the media, but what has already been said has contributed some of the tools necessary for making such inquiries. Other considerations could certainly be relevant particularly as concerns learning, such as, is one passive or active? That is to say, is one merely a receptor or a participant in the creation of knowledge? Such a consideration certainly has a large impact on questions of self-determination and therefore the potential for purpose in life.

To return to the general question of purpose in human life: Purpose implies potential. That potential will be either self-guided or else channelled by certain pressures and forces within the world. In either case, that direction is based upon value judgements about what the ends of our actions will be.

To give an example, if one merely works to sustain oneself, then the ends of one’s life is merely to survive. If one survives for the sake of something more, then it is towards that or those things to which one’s purpose is directed.

But even that does not conclude a full consideration of our purpose, because the aims that either we may have or others may have for us, nor the immediate events of our lives, do nor bracket our presence and effects in the world. Our presence and our actions also impact the world to degrees beyond our intentions and awareness. For example, we may have impacts on the people we meet either by the way we treat them or even how they perceive us. We may, through changes we effect in the environment, impact the effects which emanate from the environment, whether one is speaking in physical terms or in terms of an atmosphere of ideas.

These are all factors which must be taken into account in any serious consideration of purpose in human life.

 

Europe, A History of Progress? Pt. 2

Part 1: https://uncoveringeurope.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/europe-a-history-of-progress-pt-1/

The Enlightenment philosophers of the Scientific Revolution and Age of Enlightenment continued to make defer to God with relation to all of their ideas, but particularly those of morality. With an argument that possesses echoes of Francis Bacon’s formulation of God’s will in nature, John Locke wrote: “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker” (Two Treaties on Government, Book II, Chapter 2, Section 6)

The ideal of liberty would continue to guide the vision of an enlightened society until the French Revolution and beyond. As an absolute ideal, liberty knows no bounds and any idea of boundaries can be seen as a restraint upon that liberty.

Many of the Romantic artists were either admirers of the French Revolution or at least passionate devotees of liberty. In the realm of art and aesthetics they unseated the Classical and Neoclassical notion that beauty, and thus the artist’s ability to conjure forth that beauty, is an objective quality which follows a defined set of principles, among them symmetry, proportion, and harmony. Instead, the Romantics claimed that art was the result of individual genius making manifest his inner inspiration.

The independence of art from given rules was taken further and then famously championed by Théophile Gautier with the formulation “L’art pour l’art” or “Art for the sake of art”. The implications of this slogan were that art was separated from any guiding principle, any core set of values which become manifest through creation and inspire by those witness that creation. Consider this in light of Percy Shelley’s remark in his Defence of Poetry that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

Europe was on a trajectory towards positivism, having first passed through the Critique of Pure Reason.  But an issue lurked in the background which would haunt thinkers in the later years of the 19th century which stemmed from the fact that an empirical method cannot discover values  as values do not appear in observable facts but are an aspect of human relation to those facts.

After the spread and contemplation of the ideas of Darwin, the European mind would enter into a state of crisis regarding belief in the existence of God. The implications of this crisis can be illustrated by the words which Dostoevsky gives to his character Kirilov in his work Demons part 3, chapter 6, II: “If there’s no God, then everything is my will, and I’m bound to express my self-will.”

The question was then, where does the free will discover the foundation of values by which the self is guided in the world? In order for there to be progress, there must be a value towards which one is oriented and so can judge the difference between that progress and its opposite, deterioration.