Milton on Freedom of Printing: Areopagitica

Barry Stocker:

my latest post for the group blog Notes On Liberty

Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:

Areopagitica 

A Speech of Mr John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing to the Parliament of England (1644).

(For my general introduction to Milton, click here)

‘We turn for a short time from the topics of the day, to commemorate, in all love and reverence, the genius and virtues of John Milton, the poet, the statesman, the philosopher, the glory of English literature, the champion and martyr of English liberty’, Thomas Babington Macaulay (Whig-Liberal historian, writer and government minister), 1825.

The digitised text of Areopagitica can be found at the Online Library of Liberty here.

The strange sounding title is a reference to one of the key institutions of ancient republican and democratic Athens, the court of Areopagus. Appropriately, as we are looking at an essay on politics by a great poet, the Areopagus and its mythical foundation was celebrated as the core of Athenian justice in

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Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature V (last part)

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) studied with Foucault at the Ecole normale superière (university for educating future humanities academics in Paris) though became more of a rival than an ally in philosophy. Some of his early work, particularly Of Grammatology continues Foucault’s early interest (when Derrida was his student) in discourses of the knowledge of nature.

The title ‘of grammatology’ refers to a science of writing, and was only used very occasionally before Derrida. Derrida does not advocate a science of writing, but rather picks up on the word to discuss how any idea of science, including a science of language, is conditioned by the nature of writing since knowledge is something that is written and is caught in a relation between writing and what is written.

This issue may seem marginal most of that time, but comes to the fore more in writing about writing. Derrida looks at how one understanding of writing, particularly in the Middle Ages, has been to construct a book which is the book of nature, in which a book duplicates what is in nature, which itself has some theological origin.

The idea of a book of nature, along with any idea of sacred knowledge beyond the strict limits of religion, that is the exclusion of theology from science  is something that Derrida thinks of as disappearing in the seventeenth century (or beginning to disappear, eighteenth and early nineteenth century science is still influenced by the idea of  a natural theology in which the laws of nature and initiated and unified by God) .

The disappearance itself leads the way to an interest in what writing is and how writing may be about itself as much as any external object represented. Derrida partly engages with this through a discussion of the autobiography of the the Swiss-French Enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778),The Confessions.

What Derrida emphasises about it is that Rousseau keeps staying within the reality of autobiographical writing and gives us a sense of writing detached from external reality. For Derrida this conditions all writing, since writing can only refer to what is represented in writing, words can only be explained by other words.

Derrida does not say that natural reality outside writing is an illusion, he is saying that writing is a theme for writing and that writing can never stand completely outside itself, by representing some reality completely independent of what can be brought into writing. This is the source of Derrida’s famous and notorious comment that ‘there is nothing outside of the text’. The point is not to deny objective reality, but to point out that texts are alway s explained by more text.

Derrida

‘there is nothing outside the text’

Of Grammatology

Part II

2

There is nothing outside of the text. And that is not because Jean-Jacques’ life [referring to the life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau as described in his autobiography The Confessions], or the existence of Mamma or Thérèse themselves, is not of prime interest to us, nor because we have access to their so-called “real” existence only in the text and we have neither any means of altering this, nor any right to neglect this limitation. All reasons of this type would already be sufficient, to be sure, but there are more radical reasons. What we have tried to show by following the guiding line of the “dangerous supplement,” is that in what one calls the real life of these existences “of flesh and bone,” beyond and behind what one believes can be circumscribed as Rousseau’s text, there has never been anything but writing; there have never been anything but supplements, substitutive significations which could only come forth in a chain of differential references, the “real” supervening, and being added only while taking on meaning from a trace and an invocation of the supplement, etc. And thus to infinity, for we have read, in the text, that the absolute present, Nature, that which words like “real mother” name, have always already escaped, have never existed; that what opens meaning and language is writing as the disappearance of natural presence.

Derrida does not draw any conclusions about nature or science from this, but he does argue that his way of thinking about writing is better suited to science than any way of thinking about writing which makes words the transparent representation of an idea. Scientific language  tends to work more like a set of instrumental rules for using words.

This becomes particularly clear in mathematics, symbolic logic and computer code.  Nature itself contains a kind of non-representation writing as in DNA code. The rules have meaning through their use not through representation which Derrida suggests fits with his way of writing about philosophical and literary language as always being concerned with language, with substitutions of one word for another, rather than eliminating the materiality of language in writing which somehow engages in a pure representation of things as if the things could be completely present in the writing.

Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature IV

Both Heidegger and Nietzsche influenced the work in France of Michel Foucault (1926-1984) on the history of discourses of knowledge. In one of his earlier books, The Order of Things,  Foucault includes discussion of knowledge of nature, though this features less in later writing. He focuses on how the ‘facts’ are organised according to different assumptions in different periods.

A set of assumptions is something Foucault refers to as an ‘episteme’ (from the Greek for knowledge) and there are different ‘epistemes’ at different points at time which arrange observations (positivities), theories and connections between theories in different ways. In the seventeenth century, Foucault argues that the ‘episteme’ is oriented towards representations of what can be seen, which is the basis of ideas of ‘living beings’ in the seventeenth century.

Observations are tabulated and subject to ideas about how they should be connected, which rely on what can be observed at one time and does not incorporate change or time (Francis Bacon who was referred to by Vico as model could be an example). The eighteenth century develops an ‘episteme’ which includes ‘natural history’ in which time and change enters the science of living beings, allowing evolutionary theory to emerge later, when natural science in general  moved on from idea of ‘natural philosophy’ to science as we understand it now.

Foucault, The Order of Things

Part I

3. Representing

Chapter V. The imagination of resemblance

VI. Mathesis and ‘Taxinomia’

The project of a general science of order; a theory of signs analysing representation; the arrangement of identities and differences into ordered tables: these constituted an area of empiricity in the Classical age that had not existed until the end of the Renaissance and that was destined to disappear early in the nineteenth century. It is so difficult for us to reinstate  now, and so thickly overlaid by the system of positivities to which our own knowledge belongs, that it has for long passed unperceived. It is distorted and masked by the use of categories and patterns that are our own. An attempt is apparently being made to reconstitute what the ‘sciences of life’, or ‘nature’ or ‘man’, were, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, while it is quite simply forgotten that man and life and nature are none of them domains that present themselves to the curiosity of knowledge spontaneously and passively.

What makes the totality of the classical episteme possible is primarily the relation to a knowledge of order. When dealing with the ordering of simple natures, one has recourse to a mathesis of which the universal method of algebra. When dealing with the ordering of complex natures (representations in general as they are given in experience), one has to constitute a taxanomia, and to do that one has to establish a system of signs. The signs are to the order of composite natures what algebra is to the order of simple natures.

Above Foucault indicates how the classical epistime develops what looks at the time like an exhaustive tabulation of facts and ways of organising relations between facts, before indicating below how this method now seems to us to separate nature between what is classified and is therefore very knowable and what cannot be so knowable because analysis and reflection are necessary to classification.

V. Classifying

II. Natural history

How was the Classical age [the Seventeenth century] able to define this realm of ‘natural history’, the proofs and even the unity of which now appears to us so distant, and as though already blurred? What is the field in which nature appeared sufficiently close to itself for the individual beings it contained to be classified and yet so far removed from itself that they had to be so by the medium of analysis and reflection?

From this point Foucault develops an account of how desire, political economy, and natural history enter knowledge as ways of dealing with production, time and change. The role of desire is examined in relation to de Sade in something of a departure from what is most often taken as knowledge. What Foucault suggests is that de Sade is building up a way of thinking in his stories and essays dealing with the ‘naturalness’ and endlessness of desire which will be taken up in psychoanalysis most obviously, and maybe even in Darwinian interests in reproduction and sex.

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Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature III

Jumping on to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, Kingdom of Prussia/German Empire), we see a philosopher who came into the topic from classical philology, that is the study of ancient texts and language. His background in that respect has some similarity with that of Vico, though he does not appear to have been aware of his work. Montaigne, however,  does get some acknowledgement.

As a philosopher, Nietzsche also read a lot of natural science of his time and of the previous century. The idea of ‘genealogy’ as a philosophical approach comes from his book On the Genealogy of Morality,  though Nietzsche goes beyond simply looking at the history of words to the ways that interacts with social and psychological forces, which include biological and physiological aspects.

Nietzsche’s approach is of a kind of anti-Hegel, emphasising an idea of nature as both aleatory and material, which is the context to form judgement of the passage below, where the may be some tension between the ‘law’ aspects of science and Nietzsche’s strongly aleatory tendencies, which might be resolved on further inquiry through terms like ‘emergence’, ’supervenient’ and ‘spontaneous order’.

Nietzsche

The Gay Science 

Book Four

335 Long live physics!

We, however, want to become those we are — human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves. To that end we must become the best learners and discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense — while hitherto all valuations and ideals have been based on ignorance of physics or were constructed so as to contradict it. Therefore long live physics! And even more so that which compels us to turn to physics — our honesty!

The hermeneutic approach comes up in the later German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who brings an approach originally developed with relation to texts (philology of ancient texts and hermeneutics/theological interpretation of the Bible, Heidegger himself had education in a Catholic seminary before a period as a Protestant Bible based Christian which coincides with the text cited below, and was very well aware of theological issues in general and around the hermeneutics of the Bible) to other philosophical issues including the basis of science and knowledge of nature, which for Heidegger has lost its foundations because of an excessive orientation towards method and control of nature

Heidegger

Being and Time

Introduction II

[…] the ancient way of interpreting the Being of entities is oriented towards the ‘world’ or ‘Nature’ in the widest sense

So what Heidegger indicates above is the desirability of science operating in the context of the broadest understanding of ‘nature’ or ‘world’ rather than trying to follow a reductive empiricist ideal in which science can be seen purely in terms of building up from isolated experiments (something like this can be found in the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume and the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists in the 1920s).

Heidegger was to take this approach up later, most famously in his essay ‘Question Concerning Technology’ where he argues for technology to be placed in the context of a letting nature be, rather than an imposition on and control of nature as a mere resource.

Hot off the press – Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales is published

Barry Stocker:

Great news, courtesy of Stuart Elden’s blog

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

Hot off the press – Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales is published. This is the last Collège de France course to appear, though it is the second in sequence, from 1971-72. Bernard E. Harcourt edited the text, it comes with a ‘Situation du cours’ by him and François Ewald, and some additional material: the first French translation of an English summary of a lecture Foucault gave in Minnesota in 1972, “Cérémonie, théâtre et politique au XVIIe siècle”; a letter from Étienne Balibar to Harcourt; and an essay on Foucault and historians by Claude Olivier Doran.

TIP published

Many thanks to Bernard for giving me this copy – and for previously sharing an early version of the transcription.

[Update: the image on the right is not a book, but an advertising flyer for the series as a whole.]

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Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature II

In tracing the origins of the genealogical and hermeneutic approaches, we can now jump the early eighteenth century and the work of Giambattista Vico (Kingdom of Naples, 1668-1744).

The New Science

Paragraph 357

Book One

These philological proofs enable us to see in fact the institutions we have meditated in idea as touching this world of nations, in accordance with Bacon’s method of philosophizing, which is “think and see”. Thıs it is that with the help of the preceding philosophical proofs, the philological proofs both confirm their own authority by reason and at the same time confirm reason by their authority.

Vico is here drawing on  philosophy of Francis Bacon (England, 1561-1626), head of the judicial system and chief minister, as well as a writer on science, philosophy, and politics, so again we see some intersection of ideas about nature and ideas about the human world of texts and history, though Vico’s own work is certainly overwhelmingly devoted to the history of civil institutions so that he is a forerunner of social science and a social science approach to history. His approach to history is modelled on an approach to knowledge of nature, which claims to be between a purely deterministic approach (as promoted by ancient Stoics) and a purely aleatory, chance based, approach (as promoted by ancient Epicureans).

Jumping on now to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831, Duchy of Württemberg/Kingdom of Prussia), his work is most studied for its contribution to the understanding of historical, political, social, and cultural topics. However, there was a large element of philosophy of nature based around the idea that nature was rational and law bases according to categories present to the human mind, and that it existed as a dynamic interactive whole rather than a mechanism.

Unfortunately the myth has become very widespread that he believed that philosophy tells us before any empirical observation how many planets there are in the solar system. This is completely false and is the opposite of his approach which was to emphasise that nature exists according to dynamic conflicts which exceed attempts at reduction of nature to claims such as those which suggest the number of planets refers to some mathematical ratio.

Hegel did not try to restrict the number of planets, as the quotation below demonstrates

Philosophy of Nature 

Section Two. Physics.

A. The free physical bodies

3. The Planet as the Body of Individuality

There are a number of earths or planets which together form an organic unity; many correspondences are resemblances can be adduced in connection with them, though this has not yet been achieved in entire conformity with the Idea. Schelling and Steffens have likened the series of planets to the series of metals in a clever and ingenious fashion. This mode of representation is an old one: Venus bears the sign of copper, Mercury of quicksilver, the earth of iron, Jupiter of tin, Saturn of lead; as the sun and moon bore the names of gold and silver respectively. There is something natural about this, for the metals are the most compact, solid, self-subsistent bodies to be found on earth. The planets, however, belong to another sphere from the metals or the chemical process. Such allusions and analogies are external comparisons which decide nothing. Knowledge is not advanced by their means; only non-philosophical thinking is dazzled by them.

Hegel’s understanding of nature is not generally considered to be his most important work, and it generally believed he went too far in thinking nature could be described according to his categories of thought and reason. It should however be understand that he was completely against the idea that nature could be restricted to a priori claims about particular laws and physical systems.

Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature I

Text of talk I have to Physics Engineering department at Istanbul Technical University (where I teach philosophy), on 8th May this year. As it was to an audience that is educated, but not knowledgeable about philosophy, I am hoping it will make a fairly accessible set of blog posts (I’m dividing the talk into roughly 800 word sections, the length of  a serious newspaper commentary column) on what kind of philosophy it is that is usually known as Continental European Philosophy, some of its prehistory, and on some of the things said about science and nature within that way of doing philosophy.

Abstract

French and German philosophers, and sometimes philosophers of other nationalities, have often followed a way of doing philosophy which emphasises interpretation (hermeneutics) and history of concepts (genealogy) rather than the experimental sciences, maths and logic. However, they have also sometimes brought these approaches into discussions of nature and the ways in which nature is understood through formal and experimental sciences, sometimes drawing on interests in these areas as well as hermeneutics and genealogy. The talk will look at some examples of how these philosophers have approached nature and what they may have to offer to the understanding of foundations of the natural sciences.

The manner of philosophising mentioned above is usually referred to as Continental or European philosophy, or Continental European philosophy. There is an implicit contrast between Britain and the mainland of Europe in the phrase. Not all philosophers in this style are European, but the most notable are. Not all European philosophers are philosophers of this kind, probably a minority, though the majority of the most important and original European philosophers since the late eighteenth century have been of this type, certainly if we restrict this group to the most select category. Most are French or German (including Austria and German speakers in the old Habsburg empire), though at least one of the most notable is Danish, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), and maybe also one is Russian, though Mikhail Bakhtin is just (1895-1975) as much, maybe more, a literary critic than a philosopher.

This style of philosophy is usually taken back to the immediate successors to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) in German philosophy in the last years of the eighteenth century with Kant himself usually taken as between this category and the categories opposed to it of Analytic or Empiricist philosophy. However, we can take the approach developed by J.G. Fichte (1762-1814), F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1854) and G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), then Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), back to earlier philosophers who wrote in a way which is between philosophy and literature, in terms of writing style or in terms of using approaches appropriate to literary studies concentrating on interpretation of texts (hermeneutics) and histories of words  as used in texts(philology or genealogy), rather than observation of nature.

Michel de Montaigne (France, 1533-1592) will do as the first example.

Montaigne

Essays

Book Three

Essay 13 ‘On Experience’

Just as no form and no event completely resembles another, neither does any completely differ. What an ingenious medley is Nature’s: if our faces were not alike we could not tell man from beast: if they were not unalike we could not tell man from man. All things are connected by some similarity; yet every example limps and any correspondence which we draw from experience is always feeble and imperfect; we can nevertheless find some or other by which to link our comparisons. And that is how laws serve us: they can be adapted to each one of our concerns by means of some twisted, forced or oblique interpretation.

In Montaigne, we can see that a concern with interpretation intersects with interests in nature and how the objects in nature can be categorised, so questions of scientific methods, if at the most general level where metaphysics of nature also enters, that is questions of what kinds of natural objects exist.