Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Erazim Kohák

I am re-reading Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophcal Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature, U Chicago, 1984, having been reminded of it by Steven Chase, writing on Richard of St Victor. I have always loved this book especially for what it says about the ability of the natural world to heal us, and it has contributed to the sense that the ecological crisis is at root a spiritual crisis. Here are some quotations with some bracketed citations and comments:

p 205 "Seek not to venture forth: turn within—truth dwelleth in the inner man." [Noli foras ire, in te redi, in ineriore himine habita veritas.]" Saint Augustine in Of True Religion [Cf. Ps. 90:10 "The days of our years are three score years and ten and if by reason of strength they are four score, yet is their strength lebor and sorrow, for they are soon cut off and we fly way."] When Edmund Husserl selected that line as the conclusion of his Cartesian Meditations, his critics and his sympathetic readers alike seized upon it as evidence that his "transcendental turn" had led phenomenology into an invincible solipsism. To this day, t hat remains a part of the conventional wisdom of a flourishing Husserl industry.

Yet the intent of Saint Augustine's line clearly was not solipsistic, nor was that its effect. Saint Augustine's work bears no trace of the [p. 206] self-centered, self-indulgent preoccupation with private moods and dispositions which we have come to associate with the inward turn. Quite the contrary: his "inward" vision spans the full range of reality—the presence of God, the sweep of history, the works of humans. If anything, it was the Roman world around him, scorning all inward turn in a feverish occupation with the gratification of all its greed, that today seems locked in an invincible solipsism of both pure and practical reason, a lonely crown of insatiable monadic egos, each heedless of all but itself.

Nor has the injunction to turn within always led to solipsism in our time. Husserl's vision, too, spans the whole scope of Western history. His emphasis throughout lies on Einfülung and Eindeutung, the emotive and the cognitive reaching out to the other in a self-transcending empathic understanding. In the world of our days, it is not those who follow Saint Augustine's injunction, whether in prayer or in the radical brackets of a forest clearing, who are typically locked in the self-centered consumer mania of solus ipse, acknowledging no reality beyond their feeling and the flickering image on an electronic screen. Quite the contrary, they are the ones who tend to be sensitive to the plight of their fellow humans and the devastation of the natural world, willing to encounter the other with a respect for his integrity and to subordinate their whimto a good clearly perceived. Far more typically, it is those who are likely to go bulldozing through their world, both social and natural, transforming it into a wasteland in a heedless quest for gratification. . . .

In Saint Augustine's or Whitehead's usage, the distinction of "inward" and "outward" did not suggest a compartmentalization of entities into two categories, the world of objects, conceived as the region of meaningless matter in motion, and the world of meanings, locked within the privacy of each individual's mind or even brain. In their usage, both terms apply equally to all being, referring not to classes of entities but to modes of being and modes of understanding anything that is. . . .

[to be continued]


Blogger Bo said...

Very interesting---thanks for sharing it.

7:58 am, October 11, 2010  

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