“I cannot eat as much as I would like to vomit.”

Max Liebermann, 1933.


Montaigne and Scholasticism

The essays of Montaigne show, in their structure, an echo of the scholastic treatise. The authors of a scholastic treatise first compiled the opinions and teachings of earlier authors before explaining his own position on the topic. Montaigne often also starts with citations of several classic authors, before developing his own ideas. Perhaps the mottos or citations at the start of some modern essays are a reflection of this tradition.

A Note on Homosexuality in Muslim Culture

How strange! There is a long and rich tradition of Arabian homoerotic poetry that emerged as part of Muslim culture, obviously a trace of homosexual life in old times. Militant homophobia only entered muslim culture as a result of European colonization. As a result of European (protestant, Victorian) uptightness and law, this homophobic attitude entered the muslim mindset, and during the 19th century, homoerotic poetry disappears from the muslim world. Colonialism triggers a kind of inferiority complex among the colonized and then out of shame, they discard those aspects of their culture that are frowned uppon by the colonizers, and integrate the colonizer’s attitudes into their own identity. Stupid and tragic in its consequences.


Philosophical Excavations

I have started a new blog to publish some research into the history of philosophy as well as some reflections and meta-level thoughts about the results of that reserach. I have published an introductory article Starting to Dig and a first research article on the little-known Austrian philosopher Karl Faigl (more articles on him are planned). My first “philosophical digging campaign” is concentrating on some (predominantly right wing) philosophy from eraly 20th century Germany and Austria. If you are interested in this project, just follow that blog. I will only publish occasionally there since the time I can spend on this project is currently quite limited, but I hope that bit by bit I will be able to present some interesting stuff here (about this particular direction of philosophy as well as some others).

There is no Science of Science

There is history of science and there is philosophy of science. There is no science of science. The reason for this is that every formal method is limited (as can be demonstrated mathematically, in computability theory) and as a result, there is no formal or algorithmic way to produce arbitrary scientific knowledge. Every methodology of science must necessarily be incomplete. Therefore, the methodology of science involves creativity, i.e. the ability to go from one formal system to another, and the totality of these processes cannot be described within any single formal theory or algorithm.

As a result, the meta-discipline of science is a branch of philosophy and will remain so, and science develops historically. The meta-disciplines of science are thus necessarily inside the humanities, and will always remain so. There are no fixed laws describing what scientists do. Science, if understood as the description of systems following fixed laws, is not applicable to itself.

A Small Inheritance

My recently deceased aunt passed some books to me, mostly about philosophy and psychology. When I visited her the last time, she had told me how she had received some of these books. Some of these books had come from the library of the theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann had been a professor in Marburg. When my aunt was a student in that town, she got a job as a prompter in the metropolitan theater of Marburg. One other woman working there had been hired by the old Professor Bultmann to read books to him since he had become almost blind. When he died in 1976, she received some of his books and then passed some of these on to my aunt who was interested in them.

This way, a couple of books from this theologian have now ended up in my possession. My interest in theology is limited,  but this collection of books contains little about theology, but a lot of other interesting material. His theological books obviously went other ways. I cannot tell in every case which of the books I received are actually from Bultmann’s collection and which from my aunt’s (there is a lot of stuff about psychoanalysis, for example, and I am not sure if any of these come from Bultmann or just reflect my aunt’s interest in the topic), but I know for sure that the series of Eranos yearbooks in this stock of books comes from Bultmann’s possession, and there are some others (mostly about mythology and different religions) which I suspect to be from his library as well.

When we buy used books from antiquarian booksellers, we normally do not know the history of those books. By going through the hands of a bookseller, the history of the books, the history about their former owners and readers, is usually stripped away from them. I find it interesting to receive some books of which I know a little bit of the history. These books are intersting for their content, but they are also memory items and it is interesting to see what this particular theologian was interested in, even if I do not share his views.

A Note on Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology

Around the beginning of the 20th century, philosophy split into two directions, “analytic” and “continental” philosophy. Or so the story goes, as told by some philosophers of the “analytic camp”. Elsewhere I have argued that I don’t think these are valid terms. There was a larger number of different directions of philosophy and what we now call “analytic philosophy” is just one of them and does not have a special status.

Some of the directions of thought lumped together as “continental philosophy” might also have more in common with the “analytic” ones than the proponents of analytic philosophy are realizing. Take, for example, phenomenology, as proposed by Husserl, on one hand, and some strands of analytic philosophy that are connected to classical “artificial intelligence” and “cognitive science”, on the other. The people working within those paradigms might not see the similarity, but there is one:

In those parts of analytic philosophy that are trying to develop models of human mind and language (and feed into AI and cognitive science), an attempt is made to get a scientific description of the human mind by finding the laws according to which the mind is working. This is based on the assumption that such fixed laws of thought and perception or more generally of cognitive processes do exist.

This results in (and from) an ahistorical view of the human mind. The human mind is not viewed as something that develops historically but as something that has a fixed structure (which is determined by genes and only develops by means of genetic, i.e. biological changes).

In phenomenology, as put forward by Husserl, an attempt is made to arrive at objective descriptions of things as experienced. In order to do so and to ward off any psychologism, the human mind and its foundation in psychology, neurology or biology is left out of the description. Husserl starts with some “transcendental mind” that is itself not analyzed or described. In opposition to the current of “philosophical anthropology” of the 1920s and 1930s, there is something like a proscription of anthropology in his approach. He starts with some concept of rationality that is not itself analyzed.

However, such an approach would only work if the human mind would be ahistorical and not developing. In a way, Husserl is stepping into the same trap of the European rationalistic tradition as the analytic tradition.

If the human mind is culture- and time-specific and changes historically, this exclusion of anthropology does not work. If the mind is “programmable”, i.e. if information taken up from the environment is integrated into it, there would be no invariable rationality or “Vernunft” that can be excluded from view (as in Husserl’s approach) or that can be described by means of formalisms (as in cognitive science, AI and related strands of analytic philosophy).

Any formal description of the human mind is then incomplete and extensible and any description of the experienced world is specific for a certain time and culture, or even for an individual or a certain stage in an individual’s life. Fixing the human rationality, either to exclude it from view or to describe it scientifically, does not work if this mind does not have a fixed border and information from outside it can be integrated into it in a process akin to programming.

The real rift in early 20th century would then not be between “analytic philosophy” and “continental philosophy”, but between a rationalistic tradition viewing the mind as stable and fixed and another tradition that views it as something that is historically developing and world-open. This latter direction would contain some brands of historicism (one could put Dilthey here, although he is a borderline case)[1] and the mentioned philosophical anthropologists (Plessner, Gehlen, Scheeler), who described the human being as “world-open”. One could probably also include pragmatism here.

There are obviously different ways to group the different currents of philosophy. We should not just take the analytic/continental division as given. Reality is much more complicated.


[1] Dilthey criticized Kant’s apriori as rigid and dead because it was ahistorical. However, he made several attempts to develop a psychology and never finished any of these projects. This might have been an impossible project because a complete description of psychology is impossible if the mind is historic. The topic seems to have melted away under his hands, but he seems not to have come to the conclusion that he was trying something impossible.