Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel II

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for the last 8 days, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

When the ethical order becomes more concerned with universality, as in Stoicism, and then Christianity, art is dying, in particular literature, and it is tragedy that Hegel dwells on most as the artistic form that finds its end in this context. Antigone in particular appears as the work of literature than can explain the formation of divine law, and the tensions within it between the king as judge and the action of the individual against state law. Antigone defines an essential tension, but has to be seen as ephemeral in comparison with the rise of Stoic-Christian universality. For Hegel, tragedy defines its own death in the world of law. So unlike commentators such as Speight (2001), it is assumed here that Hegel moves towards a subordination of subjectivity to law, which has a Stoic-Christian accompaniment in the Roman world, and that is a subordination which is in particular a subordination of feminine subjectivity.

Tragedy comes from a mixture of Dionysian rites and Athenian democracy, these are the ways in which a unity of the social body can be created, that is the basis of the chorus in tragedy. So the first death of tragedy itself refers to a limited role that Hegel gives to Athenian democracy. As Philosophy of Right shows, Hegel thinks that the deepest liberty requires a system of institutions and laws, rather than the sovereignty of majority will. The section on ‘The Greek World’ in The Philosophy of History details Hegel’s admiration for Periclean Athens, as well as his belief in a subsequent democratic and cultural decadence.

Tragedy in Hegel’s understanding of antiquity is preceded by the Minstrel, who appears to be Homer, and who gathers material which is universal and outside the individual. Tragedy’s successor comedy represents another stage in the emergence of the individual, but in ways which place the individual under universality. The emergence of ethical form first requires literature, and then excludes it from spirit, as comedy gives way to the universality of ethics and law. The emergence is itself an aspect of the move of the religion of plants to the religion of animals, and then of gods linked with nations. Epic is a first stage of abstraction. What Hegel loses in going beyond Antigone, in his own terms, is awareness of the tension between law as decided by state sovereignty, and law as defined by individual ideas of the good. He also loses the Athenian democratic world of citizenship, equality, and free speaking. All of this has to be contained for Hegel, as does a literary form concerned with individuality, mis-judgement, accident, loss of will, the cruelty of gods and rulers.

For Hegel, art seems to be already dying after or even during Greek comedy, after reaching a high point in tragedy, and continues its dying in the atmosphere of Roman law, Stoicism and Christianity. Tragedy itself is the view point in which individuality becomes more universal and substantial, which leads it beyond itself into Roman law.

[Phenomenology § 436 ]. On the face of it, The Phenomenology says hardly anything about tragedy. However, tragedy is very much present in the discussion of ethical world and ethical action in the ‘Spirit’ section of the Phenomenology, which contains two brief references to Sophocles’ Antigone. Hegel writes later at some length directly on tragedy in Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. There is some brief discussion in ‘The Idea of Artistic Beauty’ early in Aesthetics I, which tends towards a parodic version of Hegel, lacking in the ambiguities and tensions of his more detailed arguments. The discussion of tragedy ends the lectures, appropriately as Hegel brings in a version of his end of art argument there. Tragedy is identified by Hegel as the highest form of art, and as a culmination of art.

A large part of that elevated status of tragedy, maybe the major part is its ethical status.  This is ethical in Hegel’s sense which refers to the customs and habits of a people rather than to moral theory. That distinction was revived by Bernard Williams (1993) in the late 20th century, though only following on from Hegel in a very qualified way, and containing little engagement with Hegel’s texts. For Hegel, the historical period in which moral theory becomes an issue is the period in which tragedy is born and  dies. The birth of tragedy is almost simultaneous with its death in Hegel’s view. Tragedy exists in its pure form only in Aeschylus and Sophocles. Euripides, who represents third generation of tragedy after Aeschylus and Sophocles, is already decadent in Hegel’s view, foreshadowing Nietzsche’s view in Birth of Tragedy, though as Nietzsche was not a devoted reader of Hegel, there is probably no direct influence. That decadence had been noted by the comic dramatist Aristophanes, according to Hegel.

Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel I

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for the last 8 days, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

Tragedy is given  a high status by Hegel, so that like Aristotle he makes it the highest form of ‘poetry’, whether in the sense of the literary arts, or the arts in general. So it is the end of art, in the sense that art’s highest goal is realised there. There is also the well known ‘end’ or ‘death’ of art in Hegel presented in the Introduction to the Aesthetics (vol. I, 10). Here Hegel refers to the suppose disappearance of art, as representation of the absolute, in his own time. This is not the complete death of art, but can be regarded as the death, or end, of art as form of the absolute, in the unity of ethical principles and particular experience. Philosophy and religion both exceed art as representations of spirit, when they become removed from picture thinking. Some Hegel commentators, such as Beiser, also emphasise the alienation of the artist as important to the ‘death of art’ ( 305), though that is perhaps more an effect than a product of the ‘death of art,’ which is a consequence of the development  of philosophy and religion, and maybe the structure of society itself beyond picture thinking.

For Hegel, there is a need for language in art in relation to subjectivity, which is self-conscious and universal, according to the Phenomenology of Spirit this comes about when the artist realises that the work of art is not the same as the artist, challenging the original subjective assumption (§ 710, § 729). Religion itself was previously entangled with art and picture representation in Hegel’s account. The death comes from Enlightenment, from the development of philosophy from Kant, and the associated manner in which religion has become detached from the mythical. In the development of art, Hegel refers to an associated shift from epic to the novel, which has an ephemeral status in comparison with epic. The emergence of the novel is itself part of the death, or end, of art.

It is this position which leads Hegel to a major underestimation of the significance of Don Quixote in Aesthetics I,  which he suggests only portrays the ridiculous in its parody of chivalry (194, 196) and a general failure to see the philosophical, and form giving, aspects of the novel. However, this is not just the error of Hegel, in some respects it is the positive achievement of a rigorous application of a guiding principle, an achievement which does provide some principles for looking at art after its partial death, with regard to the autonomy of art. In Hegel’s philosophy of art, the element of social realism in the novel is a disturbing factor for Hegel, as he associates spirit in art with the manifest domination of spirit. The death is a repeated one, appropriately since Hegel regarded repetition as a feature of history in The Philosophy of History (313), though whether the repeated death of art fits in with Hegel’s Philosophy of History is another question. In Hegel’s account, art, particularly with regard to the literary arts, goes through a new stage of the unity of particular experience and moral principle, at every new stage. This is particularly clear with regard to Greek epic, Greek tragedy, and the emergence of the novel.

There is a a death of epic is parallel with the death of tragedy. Tragedy dies as a form of absolute spirit with the general ‘end of art,’ but before that as the death of ancient tragedy (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) in modern tragedy. In Hegel Ancient tragedy means Athenian tragedy. This is partly because Athens was the unique source of Ancient Greek tragedy. It is partly because Hegel ignores the tragedies of Seneca, the most obvious Roman achievement in tragedy. For Hegel, satire dominates Roman poetry. Modern tragedy means Shakespeare in particular, largely leaving aside Marlowe, Racine, Corneille, Calderón and Schiller. Corneille and Racine are not mentioned by name, though there are a few references to French tragedy. Calderón receives very brief attention, as does Schiller. Goethe’s Faust is put forward as the great pinnacle of modern tragic form after Shakespeare, though it is something of a limit case, with its epic qualities and resistance to staging.

Presumably we should understand all these modern tragedies through the model of Shakespeare. Shakespearean tragedy features the isolated individual who is self-reflecting, rather than representing an essential universal force. Tragedy was always about individuation, for Hegel, so there is a way in which Shakespeare is part of the form of Greek tragedy. However, the earlier tragedies are concerned with the absoluteness of law, and the concreteness of action of the individual who opposes law. The minstrel, epic and tragedy appear in the ancient world in the emergence of ethical order, including the democratic Greek city state.

The Rise of Individualist Anxiety: Kierkegaard on Antiquity and Modernity

Work on Søren Kierkegaard regarding his contributions on politics, ethics and aesthetics suggests to me he is one of the great thinkers about the historical nature of the concepts involved, though that is certainly not the the limit of his contributions. He can be seen as following on from Hegel in some of this historical consciousness, but his approach is also very distinct. Kierkegaard does not offer a total historical grasp, with everything integrated into the unfolding of consciousness (or logic or right or nature). Kierkegaad’s historical consciousness is expressed in a much more fragmented and dispersed way, with insights scattered throughout his work.

The nearest he comes to a complete historical overview is in his master’s thesis (the master’s thesis of that time was evidently the equivalent of a later doctoral thesis), The Concept of Irony, which must be a strong candidate for greatest ever work written for the purposes of fulfilling the requirements of a higher degree. The Concept of Irony is divided between considerations of irony in the time of Socrates, and largely with regard to Socrates as he appears in Plato’s dialogues; and considerations of irony in the philosophy, aesthetic theory and literature of German Idealism and Romanticism. There is a central contrast around the grounded nature of irony in Socrates compared with the later thinkers. Socratic irony does refer to his personality and the position he has on ethics and knowledge, which has an element of scepticism, but not of the dogmatic scepticism for its own sake that Kierkegaard associates with philosophy since Descartes.  Kierkegaard understands the more recent irony to be more self-reflective and detached from the reality of the subject who produces those views, so that any sense of a real subject, the concrete individual (Enkelte) that Kierkegaard centrally values throughout his writing, is lost. However, this is not an absolute distinction, since Kierkegaard finds that the degree to which the reality of subjectivity is lost, and irony becomes pure self-reflective, is different between different thinkers. To some degree he is in sympathy with Hegel on this point, though he is less negative than Hegel about the philosophy and aesthetics of irony.

Kierkegaard’s early account of irony is in large measure an early version of his account of the ‘aesthetic’ which in Kierkegaard is more an aesthetic detached attitude to life rather than a concern with art and beauty, though he does incorporate discussion of the second into discussion of the first.  The aesthetic is largely a modern category for Kierkegaard, at least when taken in separation from ethics. The aesthetic, the ethical and the religious are the major stages of consciousness for Kierkegaard, and could be understood as stages of subjectivity, universality and the absolute. The aesthetic at its most intense is self-preoccupation, which includes laughter, anxiety, melancholy, and a fragmented moment-by-moment attitude to life. This does not exist in such a pure form in the ancient world, and we  can see part of why Kierkegaard thinks so in The Concept of Irony. Socrates is not preoccupied with a subjectivity so focused on the moment that it loses any substance. He is a participant in city life and civic duties, even if isolated from and critical of its politics.  Later writing by Kierkegaard suggests that the ancient city state provides a support for the individual which relieves the individual from the possibility of s melancholic absorption in the changeable natıre of subjectivity. In the ancient polis, religion, ethnic origin and legal-political state all converge to provide a structure within which individuals can live. The effect is to relieve individuals of the burden of complete self-responsibility and self-reference, which allows for a kind of happiness otherwise impossible. It certainly allows a solidity and endurance for the state, so that politics is not an alien sphere in relation to individuality. The split between individual and political sphere does not exist in the way known to moderns, as it is the business of a city state in which public business is the business of everyone in a direct kind of way.

A kind of happiness is possible in antiquity, in the ethical and political spheres, which are more obviously intertwined in the antique world than the modern world, a kind of happiness which is not possible in the modern world. Some of this comes out of previous discussions of the contrast between the world of the ancients and the world of the moderns in the historical consciousness of the Enlightenment and of German Idealism.  However, there is a distinct element of Kierkegaard’s argument which is typical of him: Christianity destroyed the happiness of antiquity. Not only has modern complexity undermined the apparently happy possibility of identifying self with city-state, the Christian belief in fall, sin and individual responsibility for the evil deeds of the individual or the the hope for salvation has destroyed happiness. Anxiety and melancholy are really Christian moods. They are moods of alienation from God, but they are moods which must be encountered and experienced deeply to achieve the goals of Christianity. The individual can only be worthy of the greatest possibility integration of self with the absolute through experiencing the emptiness and weakness of the self before the absolute.  We can put this in a more sociological or philosophy of history frame, in which the anxiety and melancholy of the modern individual comes from social changes, but Kierkegaard’s argument is one of ideational influence on history. This does not necessarily make him the enemy of history and social science. It was Max Weber, the great sociologist, who argued that the rise of capitalism could only be fully understood with reference to the ideational force of Calvinist Christianity. Amongst current writers, Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity is the one I am most ware of who has emphasised that cultural and ethical changes of a kind which cannot be reduced to economics are necessary to the emergence of capitalism.



Nietzsche and Modern Virtue

(form work in progress on Nietzsche’s ethics)

Nietzsche envisages an end to the morality of good and evil. He distinguishes the morality of good and evil from the morality of good and bad, for example On the Genealogy of Morality (Nietzsche 1989), ‘Essay I’ 17; but he also suggests that morality can be displaced by a philosophy of life, for example Daybreak (Nietzsche 1997), Preface 4. This raises the question of whether a morality of good and bad is compatible with a philosophy of life. This birth of new values is linked by Nietzsche in Ecce Homo (Nietzsche 1989), ‘Why I Write Such Good Books’, with the idea of yes saying which he suggests can be found in Daybreak (Nietzsche 1997), The Gay Science (Nietzsche 1974),  andThus Spoke Zarathustra (Nietzsche 1954).

The relation between the positive affirmative and negative critical aspects of his work can be explored around the value of the promise, or oath. The capacity of a human to bear promises is the suggested outcome of history in Genealogy Essay II, but that may be an equivocal suggestion since it is portrayed as the outcome of cruelty and violence, which disciplines us to keep promises rather than as the consequence of keeping to a promise for reasons of virtue. The autonomy of the end of Genealogy II is maybe a quality of the merely bourgeois individual.  In that  case,the promise keeping capacity looks like it might be a product of the process which also gives us the slave morality of good and evil,  and a distraction from Nietzsche’s real positive values.  However, we should bring Daybreak 350 into play with the Genealogy here.


How Best to Promise.  — When a promise is made, it is not the words [das Wort] that are said which constitute the promise but what remains unspoken behind the words that are said. Indeed, the words even weaken the promise, in as much as they discharge and use up a strength which is a part of the strength which makes the promise.  Therefore extend your hand and lay your finger on your lips — thus you will take the surest vows.

Genealogy II 1:  To breed an animal with the right to make promises [ein Thier heranzüchten das v e r s p r e c h e n  d a r f]  — is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man?  is it not the real problem regarding man?

To ordain the future in advance in this way, man must first have learned to distinguish necessary events from chance ones, to think causally, to see and anticipate distant eventualities as if they belonged to the present, to decide with certainty what  is the goal and what the means to it, and in general be able to calculate and compute.  Man himself must first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself [seine eigne Vorstellung, um endlich dergestalt], if he is able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does!

The paragraph from Daybreak combines with Genealogy II 1-5 to convey a full Nietzschean view of promising. The promise should be more than the external promises of contract, and of the violent reminders to obey promises from the history of penal violence.  The promise contains both possibility of the contract and the inner unity of body and consciousness.  It contains the wish to command the future, not necessarily a complete sovereignty over the world, but a wish to approach the world with a purposeful will.

Daybreak 152 further suggests a new kind of oath [Eid], which would omit reference to God. Nietzsche also refers to something of concern to religious purists, Moses’ Third Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain!’.  Nietzsche’s substitute for an oath in court invoking God is: ‘If I am now lying I am no longer a decent human being and anyone may tell me so to my face’.  This suggests that Nietzsche takes a positive view of the development of humanity as bearing promises, and related value charged performatives.

One position he excludes is an ethics based on sympathy.  Nietzsche’s comments on the neighbour could be taken as comments on David Hume’s view of sympathy, in moral philosophy. Aphorism 146 is pertinent here.


Daybreak 146

Out beyond our neighbour [Nächsten] too.— […] May we not at least treat our neighbours [Nächsten] as we treat ourselves?  And if with regard to ourselves we take no such narrow and petty bourgeois thought for the immediate consequences and the suffering they may cause, why do we have to take such thought in regard to our neighbour?  Supposing we acted in the sense of self-sacrifice, what would forbid us to sacrifice our neighbour as well? […] Finally: we at the same time communicate to our neighbour the point of view from which he can feel himself to be a sacrifice, we persuade him to the task for which we employ him.  Are we then without pity [Mitleid]?  But if we also want to transcend our own pity [Mitleid] and thus achieve victory over ourselves, is this not a higher and freer viewpoint and posture than that in which one feels secure when one has discovered whether an action benefits or harms our neighbour?  We, on the other hand, would through sacrifice — in which we and our neighbour are both included —strengthen and raise higher the general feeling of human power, even though we might not attain to more.

The view that the individual with the right to bear promises at the end of Genealogy II is a bourgeois citizen and part of commercial life, both things scorned by Nietzsche is a plausible one. But it we take that passage in conjunction with others in Nietzsche, we can see reasons for thinking that he took the oath or the promise as part of the values he wanted to promoted after good and evil. I may be useful to compare this with his view on sympathy and passage from Daybreak above, because it all points in the direction of a value given to a transformation of the neighbourly relation, as well as the promise as it exists in the liberal bourgeois world. If Nietzsche wants to transform the bourgeois values, how far is he from those values? The transformation of all them creates a transformed rather than abolished bourgeois world, the difference is important, as is the bourgeois tendency to try to be aristocratic, to create its own romantic anti-borgeois fantasy, an inevitable result of bourgeois individualism.  It should also be noted that while Nietzsche defined himself as anti-political his ethics is very tied up with politics.

Guest Post on Adam Smith and Michel Foucault at NewAPPS

Talk to the hand: for my discussion of the invisible hand in Adam Smith and Michel Foucault go to Adam Smith in the Birth of Biopolitcs at New APPS. NewAPPS is a group philosophy blog, and one of the best and best known around. So please go there to check out my post, and stay around to look at other posts.

Blogging has been interrupted by travel. Regular service should resume this evening.

The Birth of Aestheticism in Early Modern Rationalism and Empiricism.

(from work in progress on the philosophy of literary judgement)

Why should the empiricism of Locke, following on from Hobbes and Bacon, and the rationalism of Leibniz following on from Descartes and Spinoza, both lead into a revival of the philosophy of art and beauty, and the establishment of a new philosophical branch of aesthetics?  Using the terms more familiar to the principles, why should both the philosophy of sensation and experience, and the philosophy of metaphysics and reason, both establish the possibility of a branch of philosophy concerned with taste, judgement, pleasure, and beauty?

Both philosophical trends are concerned with complexity of a kind that did not concern the ancient and medieval philosophers.  That is the scientific complexity of an infinite universe, calculus, biological organisms with a cell structure that could be seen with a microscope; along with the social complexity of a human world which was now seen in terms of the interaction of self-referring individuals rather than unitary social substance.  In Locke we get some early elements of economics, a subject also developed by Hume, and given a foundation in Hume’s Scottish Enlightenment friend Adam Smith.

The reemergence of aesthetic philosophy coincides with the rise of the novel, a new understanding of history, theories of sympathy, and the rise of political economy.  It  follows on from an interest in complexity, and the harmony of diversity in science and metaphysics.

This all goes back to Renaissance Humanist interests in the difficulties of interpretation and the restlessness of the human self.  The Renaissance thought, into the philosophy of Descartes, refers back to an antique ethic.    Even in the mid-Eighteenth century Hume can group antique ethics together in a favourable contrast with Medieval religious thought.  Hume finds the claims of antique ethics to rationalism to be excessive and misleading, but is still appealing to a something like a more flexible version of Stoicism.  The element that is present in Hume that is not present in antique thought is some sense of the multiplicity of sensation, the actions of the mind, and the perspectives of perception.  Both Locke and Leibniz undermine the idea of a reason that controls passions through the will.  Perceptions are outside the control of reason, and motivate human reasoning.  Locke has a view of ideas of good and evil as emerging from pain and pleasure.  There is something like that in antique Epicureanism, but original Epicureanism (as opposed to seventeenth century neo-Epicureanism, or the popular meaning of Epicurean) still pulls that influence of pleasure and pain back into the orbit of reason, which aims for the absence of pain rather than the pursuit of pleasure.

Leibniz’ ethical vision is connected with a theodicy in which God creates the best possible world, which brings in compossibility, and choice of compossibles, between an uncounted number of possible worlds.   Our perceptions are contingent and variable.  They do not give us full knowledge of substances.  All predicates belong to substances by necessity, but our limited perceptions and mind cannot grasp the complex chain of links, which show that the predicate is in the subject.  Both Locke and Leibniz argue that perception does not give us access to the perceived object.  There are previous doubts about how far are perceptions are reliable, but not the claim of a distinction between substance or object, and perceptions in the mind which is epistemological and ontological.  All of these issues feed into the re-emergence of philosophy of art, and beauty, in aesthetic philosophy and philosophy of taste.  The idea of an object of perception, distinct from the inner physical object, is decisive for the idea of an autonomous sphere of aesthetics in which we grasp aesthetic objects, or the aesthetic aspect of objects, as distinct from the knowledge, or reality of objects.  The appreciation of the complexity of perception feeds into the appreciation of art as complex.

There is a dominant mode of thinking, which leaves beauty and art as very constrained within a structure in which reason is dominant, maybe guided by Plato’s forms, or something like them as in Christian thought about God.  Plato’s thought about beauty and art gives them interesting but limited, and sometimes negative, roles as secondary or instrumental aspects of truth and morality, which may fall too much under the sway of unfixed opinion and desire.  While Aristotle places poetry as closer to philosophy than history, it still occupies a small part of his philosophy.  A part in which the highest poetic form, tragedy, is strong linked with the dangers of losing reason losing control, of being overwhelmed by misjudgement and bad luck.  Art is a way of structuring what threatens our most important capacities in order to control them, rather than serving a source of value and perception itself.  We can certainly read into Plato and Aristotle, powers and values in art going beyond these constraints, but those readings would have seemed strange to them.


Adam Smith’s Theory of the State

A partial discussion of Adam Smith’s view of the role, and extent, of the state, largely, but not entirely with reference to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). Book V (Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth) up to V.i.e.

There is full discussion of the two most basic functions of the state, which everyone who agrees that there should be such a thing as a state, should be state functions: national defence and the administration of justice.  Smith looks at the different ways the defence function is undertaken in different societies.  In the earliest societies of hunters, armies must be small and not very effective as hunters live in small scattered groups and do no develop many skills.  The second state of society is that of shepherds.  Shepherds are more militarily effective as herding societies concentrates population, allowing large armies to be recruited.  Shepherds cannot be away from livestock for very long though, and while they can support themselves during war, they cannot do so for long.  An agricultural community/a community of husbandmen has greater concentrations of population, but allows less leisure time for military training.  An urban community/community of artificers has even greater concentrations of population, but even less leisure time for training. Furthermore, the skills of artificers are less relevant to warfare.

Large armies formed by societies at an earlier social stage often defeat great states and empires, because the population of the great state may be less suited to war.  Its people are busy with non-military pursuits, its aristocracy lives in the capital city and does not have a military lifestyle.  Armies are formed of mercenaries who are not loyal, and who are paid with taxes which make the population less loyal to the government.  The people of a great state may side with barbarian armies, as happened at the end of the Roman Empire in the west.  This is an example of how Smith thinks that history and state development do not always go in a progressive direction, though on the whole he thinks that is the case.

Differences in military strength also relate to the differences between militia armies and standing armies.  A militia army is a part time citizen army and is less strong than a standing army of full time professional soldiers.  The Roman Empire had to move from militia to standing army in order to win wars and become a great state.  However, that produced the problem we have already seen, of disloyal and expensive mercenaries.  In addition it poses the danger of an army that is stronger than the people or state, leading sometimes to despotic military government.  This danger is avoided by ensuring that the army is under the ultimate command of civil authorities.

The origins of the state’s judicial functions are non-ideal for Smith.  In early history rulers accept money to decide on legal disputes.  Both sides are charged for judicial services and those who cannot afford such expenses do not have access to legal justice.  The justice system in such times works to keep the poor away from the property of the rich, and does little for the poor.  The judicial function is early on carried out by the chieftain of the society, but as societies become more complex, professional judges have to be employed.  Justice starts to become less personalised, though it is still largely for the benefit of the rich.  Historical development require a larger and larger judicial system which is paid for by taxes rather than charges which become bribes extorted from those seeking a favourable judgement.  In this way, a state that is less connected with the person of the monarch and more concerned with general justice emerges.

Smith discusses the economic aspects of public goods and state limits with regard first to roads and then to trading companies.  Roads can be provided in a purely private way by charging for use.  However, Smith argues, there cannot be a purely private system, because experience shows that private road owners can make large amounts of money charging for inadequate roads.  This is is not just bad for the individuals using those roads, but for everyone since the economy slows down if movement of goods and people slows down.  Smith still thinks state run roads can raise charges and suggests dangers from state operation, in that charges for roads may become a major source of revenue for the state, which may end up making road unaffordable for most people through high charges.  He notes that in France, there has been some success in provision of roads by provincial officials, suggesting that local responsibility has many benefits.  Discussing London, he suggests it is fairer and more efficient for people in London to pay for local roads and lighting than tax payers in other parts of the country.  Going back to France, he says there are sometimes bad roads there as well, and that too much money is put into big roads.  These are noticed  by the aristocracy, bringing greater prestige and political influence than a good system of small roads which benefits more people, but in a way which is not noticed. That is a problem discussed now of how politicians favour projects which bring strong benefits to a few and charge a bit to most people through taxes, rather than cheaper projects which bring slight improvement to most people: the problem of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs.

On trading companies, Smith discusses companies which traded with Africa, India, and the Ottoman Empire (‘Turkey’) and which were a form of semi-private colonialism, in that they often administered territory in those regions under the guise of trade, or at least sought trading terms which benefitted the company rather than the host state.  The most famous of these companies was the East India Company which colonised large parts of the subcontinent, before it was replaced by an official British empire in India.  Smith was not an enthusiast for colonialism but saw it as inevitable in situations were trade was dangerous, since then merchants needed fortresses to protect them, the fortresses needed soldiers and a territory with population to provide soldiers, taxes to finance all of this, etc.  Smith notes the many ways that these kinds of company with privileged relations to the state distort trade to their advantage and everyone else’s disadvantages.  They try to prevent competing traders and competing producers where it threatens their economic welfare.  He also discusses how these companies work internally, which is a more positive story of how investors get together and find ways of protecting their investments without necessarily harming anyone else.  Smith’s overall lesson is that the state should provide the administration of justice necessary for trading companies to have a stable existence, but should avoid protecting their interests or coming under their influence.  The state should only do what brings genuine general benefits (public goods), making use of charges and local responsibility where that brings about the most benefits.

James Harrington: Republican Thinker from 17th Century England

(A summary discussion of James Harrington, author of the English republican classic OceanaNo time to write anything new for the blog right now. This seems to  be notes I was working up into publishable, I hope, form. I’m quite pleased with them as a summary bringing out the features of Harrington’s thought I’m most interest in and putting it in historical context. I seem to have put in the wrong place though, a file on Foucault and early modern liberty when it belongs with another project I have on libertarian republicanism. Foucault does not get much into Harrington.)

Harrington frequently refers to Machiavelli, particularly the Discourses.  He also refers Aristotle and Cicero.   Harrington’s republicanism refers to Machiavelli and to the Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.  The most significant example of a modern republic for him was Venice, a major trading and naval power in the eastern Mediterranean at that time.  As a long lasting power, it was particularly important as an example of a republic dominated by the aristocracy.  Harrington discussed the political models of the Israelites together with Ancient Roman and Greek history, treating them all as historical examples of different kinds of state.
Harrington wrote partly in reaction to Hobbes’ Leviathan.  He rejected Hobbes view that political freedom is an illusion because in all forms of government we are bound to follow the law.  Harrington argues that there is a difference between laws which establish political freedom and those which do not.  Harrington followed Aristotle and Livy in distinguishing between an empire of laws and an empire of persons.  In the Empire of Law, all individuals are equally under law.  In an empire of persons the government  is above the law.  This could be the monarch who is above the law and becomes a despot; an aristocracy which places itself above the law and becomes an oligarchy; or the people when they ignore law and become anarchic.  However, he disagreed with Machiavelli about the benefits of conflict between Patricians and Plebians in the Roman Republic.  Harrington thought this was a consequence of the wrong distribution of land between the two groups.  Harrington thought the best government is a mixed constitution in which there is a senate/aristocracy which discussed possible laws, a people which votes on laws, and a body of magistrates who administer law, and which replaces the monarch.
Harrington efers  to the ancient republican models of Rome and Israel, described in terms of liberty and prudence.  In the modern world, it is only Venice that he regards as a republic worth mentioning (despite other republics in northern Italy and the confederated republics of Switzerland and the Netherlands).
The government of laws in a republic is a civil society of men on the foundation of common rights and interests.  A government of men is one where a state is ruled by one, or a few men, according to private interests.  He refers to Machiavelli as the politician who has tried to revive the government of laws.
Harrington follows his positive reference to Machiavelli with a negative reference to Hobbes’ Leviathan which is in favour of the government of men. Harrington criticises Hobbes for saying that government rests on most people fearing some people in government.  The possibility of such fear is not a basis for government.
Harrington says that he is following Machiavelli and the ancients in listing 3 forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, democracy.  These are forms of government based on reason.  They all tend to degenerate into three equivalent forms of government based on passion: tyranny, oligarchy, anarchy.
This is not quite the same as Plato, Aristotle and Cicero.  They all referred to democracy as a bad form of government, and put the emphasis on following the limits of law/virtue rather than the difference between reason and passion.  It is also true that for the ancient thinkers reason is linked with law/virtue and passion, or desire, is linked with lawlessness/vice.
Hobbes recognises the three forms of government mentioned by Machiavelli and the ancients, but refuses to recognise the possibility of the mixed form of government they all favoured.  According to Harrington, these mixed forms of government have existed, particularly in Rome.
Harrington says Hobbes is also wrong in confusing the internal goods of a state, particularly prudence, with the external goods of a state, particularly power.  Power does not follow from prudence (wisdom, practical reason), they are distinct kinds of thing according to Harrington.
Harrington refers to kinds of empire.  By empire, he means forms of sovereignty rather than states based on conquests of other states.  He distinguishes between domestic and national empire.  Domestic empire refers to ownership/dominion of property; national empire refers to the political system.
National empire rests on domestic empire, on the kinds of property in the state.  If one man is owner of all property (his example is the Ottoman Sultan referred to as grand signor of the Turks), there is absolute monarchy.
If a few people have a high proportion of the land (the main form of property that Harrington is concerned with), there is a mixed monarchy (power of a monarch plus aristocracy).  Where land is divided between many people, there is a commonwealth.  Like Aristotle and Cicero, Harrington suggests that only the best form of political state/polity/republic should be called political state/polity/republic or common wealth.
These are forms of empire resting on law, not force.  Where dominion rests on force, there is tyranny, oligarchy or anarchy.  The stability of the state rests on the division of land, which can only be stable where it rests on law.  Harrington’s examples of such law based stability include the Ottoman state/Turkey, ancient Sparta and ancient Israel.
Harrington criticises Hobbes for thinking that a covenant of the state could be upheld by armed force.  A state resting on force will require an army to control the population.  Such an army will need to eat and will make demands on the population for support undermining the property relations of the state.
He argues against Hobbes that in ancient Rome, the people were sovereign and had formed assemblies and councils by covenant and so could not undermine those bodies lawfully, as Cicero noted.  Hobbes does not think that the Roman people could have formed a covenant with itself, while Harrington argues that it did through forming these bodies.  The disagreement with Hobbes seems to be at essence whether sovereignty can divide itself between different levels, which Hobbes denies is possible.
Harrington gives a more positive role to the gentry/aristocracy in a commonwealth than Machiavelli does.  Machiavelli argues that the aristocracy should be very weak to prevent collapse of the state in conflict between them.  Harrington argues the aristocracy can have a larger role in a commonwealth without destroying it.
Harrington refers to foreign or provincial empire, which is empire as we now understand it, that is the governing of outside nations by a state which leads to the state dividing itself into provinces.  This is dangerous to the state if it leads to sending colonies of citizens a long way from the original nation, as they are likely to rebel.  Spreading a state through sending colonies to neighbouring nations, as the Romans did strengthens the state.
A republic can be a people which conquers a foreign nation and becomes its ruling class, as with the Mamelukes in Egypt (Turkic soldier-slaves who took over the state); or it can be a conquering group as happened in Venice.  What Harrington refers to is the Venetian republic which used to include all citizens, becoming aristocratic as it becomes an empire with provinces.  It is difficult for such a state to give political rights to all citizens since some parts of it were taken by force.
Harrington approves of Plato’s ideal of rule by philosophers to promote a state based on virtue/law, and also refers to the ancient King of Israel, Solomon, on this issue. However, Harrington’s understanding of this is not that there should be a ruling class of philosophers, but that an internal good of the commonwealth is reason, and that reason/virtue should be cultivated.
Harrington rejects Hobbes’ claim that the citizen of the city republic of Lucca is no more free than a resident of Constantinople under the absolute monarchy of the Sultan.  Hobbes is confusing two things: firstly in both states citizens are restrained by laws; secondly in one state the laws promote freedom more than in the other state.
Harrington argues that the idea of rule by laws starts with private interests, from which the idea of state interest emerges.  Finally the idea of common good emerges.  He quotes Grotius on how animals have a common good, and argues that humans become less than animals when they fail to recognise such a common good.
In human society, it is clear that some people are more intelligent and able to govern than others.  This is a natural aristocracy, but that reality should not lead us to support the rule of an unelected group of the wealthy.  There should be a senate for the best people in the state, but they should be elected and not appointed by inheritance or wealth.
The senate will inevitably divide between separate groups.  The best solution to this instability is to have a democratic counter balance to this aristocratic group.  This is the whole people assembled, or where the nation is too large for this, an assembly of elected representatives.
The equivalent to monarchy in this ideal commonwealth is the ‘magistrates’ (the early modern term for government members).  The magistrates execute laws and are the part of the constitution which fills the Hobbesian role of using force to enforce laws.  However, the difference from Hobbes is that the magistrates are under laws, not above them.
This is the ideal commonwealth as described by Machiavelli in the ancient world. He was right to describe this as the best commonwealth.  There is no other possible form for a good commonwealth.  Harrington also supports this idea of the best commonwealth with reference to ancient Israel.
The example of Israel contains differences of detail from Harrington’s model of commonwealth.  The same is true of the other examples he gives: Ancient Athens, Ancient Lacedaemon (Sparta), Ancient Carthage, modern Venice, modern Holland, modern Switzerland.  Under all the variations, all have the basic features of a good commonwealth.
Harrington criticises Hobbes by arguing that Hobbes’ favoured kind of government fails even by his own standard of what government should be, a government that stays in power to prevent violent collapse of society.  Absolute monarchy favoured by Hobbes rests on the use of an army and that army is always a danger to the monarch because it might rebel.  Harrington gives the example of the Ottoman Janissaries.
States based popular government last longer than monarchies.  If they are conquered by monarchies, it is after they have destroyed their own system as when the Macedonian kings conquered the ancient Greek city states.  Such commonwealths do not suffer from sedition and rebellion because no one has a reason to do such a thing.  A commonwealth will always select leaders according to virtue, and will be stronger than any other system because of this.
Where commonwealths have problems of internal conflict it is because land is unequally distributed as in Ancient Rome; or because leaders are selected in the wrong way as in Ancient Athens where they were selected by lot (at random) so that the most virtuous people could not become leaders.  Harrington is very insistent that Machiavelli is wrong to think that the gentry will divide a state, and seems to miss Machiavelli’s point that division and conflict will strengthen a state, where it does not go too far.
Laws in a commonwealth should be few and should not change much.  Change in laws means adding to laws and having many laws makes abuse of power easier.  Referring to Cicero, Harrington argues that where there are many laws it is less easy to say what is legally correct and therefore easier for government to escape the limits of law.


Kierkegaard: Anxiety and Stages of Ethical Development

(From work in progress on Kierkegaard’s ethics. In this case revising some work from several years ago).


The Concept of Anxiety (Kierkegaard 1980) introduces the psychological into morality and sin.  The aim is to show the limits of psychology, as much as the contribution of psychology.  Nevertheless, there are guidelines for an expanded notion of psychology, and its role in morality.    Original sin is a paradox because hereditary sin is inherited from Adam, and is the repetition of his original sin.  But original sin has no precedent, it appears to be an unmotivated act of the first human.  It cannot be classified with the hereditary sin in which we might consider ourselves predetermined before conscious intentions.  How can original sin in its hereditary form come from the first choice to sin?  The originality of original sin looks to be in conflict with the choice to sin.

The question is translated into a more abstract form, following on from the Kantian question of how the autonomous self comes to bind itself with the laws of its own rationality.  Kierkegaard has common ground with Kant in that he defines ethics as universal law, and as abstract from the particularity of the individual.   For Kierkegaard, there is no reason why particular subjectivity will follow ethical lawsEthics can only be understood as subordinate to subjectivity, the relation of subjectivity with itself, and the relation of subjectivity with God which is intertwined with the relation subjectivity has with itself.   The problem of subjectivity is also a problem of time, which Kierkegaard deals with by moving from the ‘eternal’ to ‘repetition’.  Eternity can only be fully understood from the subjective experience of the contradiction between the moment and eternity, and that experience is taken up through the attempt to repeat that paradoxical moment, which is the closest we can get to eternity.  Kierkegaard’s answer to Kant’s paradox of the origin of sin in time, is to take paradox as the inevitable and ineradicable quality to subjectivity and experience.

The problem in Kierkegaard, where The Concept of Anxiety is concerned, is also that of freedom of will.  Freedom of will is really a burden to be endured rather than a mere second order faculty of human consciousness.  The capacity to reflect on choice is a frightening confrontation with infinity, since choice is infinite.   This is taken up in a para-psychological vein, again, later in Kierkegaard’s career in Sickness unto Death .  The groundlessness of free will in itself is the source of the psychological problem of anxiety.  What is emphasised in The Concept of Anxiety is that freedom faces innocence, defined as ignorance, with anxiety, the anxiety which results from a freedom to choose that takes us beyond following immediate impulses.  The first order capacity to choose between inclinations, when open to the reflective nature of human consciousness, must lead us to a second order capacity to reflect on choice where we fall into an abyss.  The anxiety of the abyss follows from the infinite regress which must result in trying to explain the causes of those choices made by free will.  A causal explanation can only refer to a particular inclination, which itself needs explanation by another inclination and so on.  If we have free will then no particular inclination can be determinate for a choice, and explanation of choices will become infinite unless we refer to the unmotivated choice of the free will.

The psychological problem has two non-psychological issues at its limits: ethics and dogmatics (that is Christian doctrine).  Ethics itself exists in two forms, first ethics which precedes the psychology of sin as it will not admit the possibility of sin; second ethics which accepts the ideal possibility of sin.  First ethics rests on metaphysics, while second ethics rests on dogmatics.  In this context, metaphysics appears to mean the universality and objectivity of reason for Kierkegaard, which is why first ethics cannot deal with the possibility of sin.   What the second ethics resting on ‘dogmatics’ can do is acknowledge sin as an ideal possibility rather than as something not thinkable with the universality of ethics.

What we have is a commitment to defining the subjectivity we must have in order to have a capacity for moral choices.  That capacity, as is stated in Fear and Trembling and the sermon in Either/Or rests on the terrifying reality that the absoluteness in subjectivity is more than ethical universality.  The attempt to follow ethical universality out of an immediate appreciation of our capacity for free will falls into anxiety and melancholia, and indeed we must pass through that stage.  That psychology is superseded by the realisation of spirit or absolute subjectivity, which is where we would define sin.  Sin can only be grasped from that point of view, as Kierkegaard indicates in a discussion of forms of anxiety which can be discussed, but never to the point of explaining what sin.  Sin is tied up with our subjectivity in the deepest way.

The synthesis of spirit can be deepened as a psychology of subjectivity in its most foundational aspects, arising from a first order psychology of immediate choices confronted with the psychology of anxiety and melancholy.   There is no subjectivity without anxiety, which is part of there being no subjectivity without sin.  Christ can contemplate the world of sin and suffering, in a moral way.  For mere humans, the synthesis of body and mind, the awareness of sin and suffering is itself a merely aesthetic appreciation.

Anxiety itself denies the possibility of a sympathetic kind of morality, though it seems that God or Christ might have that kind of morality of Rousseau and Hume.  Anxiety is both sympathetic and antipathetic, as it wavers between moral law and breaking the law in sin.  Sympathy is criticised as a form of morality in Fear and Trembling where it is referred to as an insult to those who are the objects of sympathy, and which can only drive them to turn their misfortune into the occasion for a demonic immorality and antipathy.

Kant and Vico on the Aesthetic and the Poetic; or Literary Purity and the History of Civil Institutions

(from work in progress on the philosophy of literary judgement)

In Vico, we will see how the tradition of the study of rhetoric combines with the study of law.  He sees the historical study of law in Grotius, in the seventeenth century, as a model for combing law with language and therefore with literature.  Grotius puts jurisprudential theory in the context of national history and the state, particularly with regard to philology.  Drawing on this, Vico establishes a view of poetry as essential to the study the history of human institutions.  In Kant, we will see how an aesthetic theory is formed round a theory of mind, and transcendental philosophy, apparently to harmonise understanding and imagination (which in this case refers to the capacity for sensory perception).  At this point Vico and Kant may seem very far apart, and that is not a completely false impression, but it is an impression that needs to be qualified.  Vico is concerned with principles and methods of thought, and expounds his theory of the history of human institutions through language, law and history on the foundations of those principles, and even trying to achieve a revolution in the general principle and methodology of philosophy.  Kant writes about law, politics, history, the state and international relations.  References to law and politics even enter into his most general transcendental writings.  His philosophy is guided at one level by an Enlightenment principle, ‘Think for yourself’ which is evidently applicable to politics and religion, as well as to philosophical abstraction.  Kant thinks of a taste for beauty and for the sublime as lined not only with a theory of mind and knowledge, but also with communicability, human community, law, morality and religious symbolism.  It is Vico, who in some respects diminishes the role  of poetry (summing up all literary art for him), by suggesting that it has declining importance in the third and final stage of history, the human or democratic stage.  Vico thinks of human history as starting off with two non-human stages divine and then heroic.  The divine age is characterised by very non-literal language, and the heroic age is summed up in the poetry of Homer.  The human age is the age of literal language, publicly accessible law in direct terms, and legal community rather than poetry.  It is an era where the force of law diminishes, leading to a collapse of the democratic age back to the Hobbesian chaos, which precedes a new divine age, and another run through the stages of history.

Kant’s work on aesthetics is preceded by an Enlightenment revival of the philosophy of art and beauty, though this more obviously influenced Kant than Vico.   Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper), Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, and particularly Edmund Burke, developed a view of taste and beauty within an empiricist  theory of mind and perception.  In Burke the theory of taste and beauty dominates the discussion of mind and perception.  This marks  a  major revival of philosophical aesthetics, or maybe its invention since the word ‘aesthetic’ only began to be used in philosophy of art and beauty at that time.  Philosophy of art, and beauty, is a field which had not produced major texts after the foundational contributions of Plato and Aristotle.  The history of philosophical aesthetics between Aristotle and the eighteenth century is of passages within longer works, along with literary techniques used in philosophy; what emerges of philosophical interest from the discussion of essays of taste and poetics; and the more self-reflective parts of literature, and other arts.

The eighteenth century growth of aesthetic philosophy, itself included some reference to texts after Plato and Aristotle, as in Vico’s reference to Horace in his Autobiography:

Then reading in Horace’s Art of Poetry that the richest source of poetical suggestion is to be found in the writings of the moral philosophers, he [Vico] applied himself seriously to the ethics of the ancient Greeks, beginning with that of Aristotle […] (120)

However, Vico’s main point is not to find an insight into taste in Horace, but  to explore how Vico himself had made the transition from comparing Latin poetry and literature with Italian writing of the same kind, to the study of the history of civil institutions.  His reference to ‘moral philosophers’ is here somewhat peculiar anyway, since Horace is referring to Socratics (Aes Poetica 310) rather than moral philosophers.  Even if there is a mistake in Vico’s memory of Horace, the point of the transitions between philosophy and literature is important, a matter to which we will return later in this chapter.  Unlike Kant, Vico was not concerned with developments in the theory of mind and perception after Locke and Leibniz.  It is the development of political and legal philosophy from Machiavelli, through Bacon, Grotius, Hobbes, and Pufendorf which provides the source of Vico’s thoughts on language and poetry.  Vico was born in 1688, so is closer in time to seventeenth century political and legal thought than Kant, who was born in 1724, and was therefore affected by the slightly later growth of the philosophy of taste in Britain and Wolff’s more rationalistic discussion of aesthetics in Germany.