Monday, May 13, 2024


599 Design of a society

 Currently I am writing a book with the title ‘Design of a society’, in Dutch. I will also write an English version. In due time, see my website.

 I do not pretend to be able to found a society, but I can specify what is desirable in it. The book gives the design of a society, based on the sixfold causality of Aristotle: the ‘efficient, final, material, formal, conditional and exemplary cause. There is a. chapter for each cause.

 The desired society is oriented towards the flourishing of ‘Homo Faber’ and ‘Homo Ludens’; the making of things, and the playing, experimenting with things. Crucial in this is the ability to ‘assimilate’ and to ‘accommodate’, learning through absorption, and learning through invention, in the first chapter.

 The second chapter is about the final cause, the motivation of people to make things. The third chapter is about the material cause, the means of production. In contrast with earlier thought, that is not nature, but is a task for the economy. Markets play a large role in this, but there are various imperfections of markets that require intervention. I plead for an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI).

 Het fourth chapter is about the needed competencies, th formal cause. In particular, that goes into the ability of assimilation and accommodation, and into the need for elations between people, with Martin Buber’s idea of reciprocation between people, instead of the purely instrumental relations in pure self-interest. Such interchange requires trust, and it is an art to conduct that well. The fifth chapter treats the needed education and schooling for those abilities, and ethics. The main role lies with the Aristotelian virtue of ‘phronesis’. That is also im[ortant in the practical action of Homo Faber.

 The sixth chapter treats of the conditional cause, in particular institutions. It discusses the task of establishing a balance of ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ freedom, of regulation for the public cause and freedom of action for the individual. It is needed to limit the complexity of regulation, which bureaucracy cannot cope with, in its attempt to individualise, in combination with the necessary control of fraud. Here, the UBI raises its head again.

 The seventh chapter is about nature as exemplary, not material cause as means for the use by Man, but as example and goal of good conduct. In several ways one can learn from nature in making things. Nature also deserves respect, in its magnificent manifestation of evolution. Evolution has seldom yielded organisms that defile and ruin their environment.



Sunday, March 24, 2024

598. Do plants have intelligence?

 It has been written that plants have intelligence. I think that is misguided.

 Plants do have an impressive ability to adapt. Green plants grow upward to the light. Their roots grow downwards. Flowers open at daybreak and close at night. They have colours that change, and spread odours and offer honey to attract insects for pollination. They are adaptive in many ways, but this does not prove intelligence. I have proposed to use the notions of ‘assimilation’, absorption of features of the environment, into existing frames of response, and ‘accommodation’ of those frames. Intelligence requires both, but plants only have assimilation.

 How do programs of action arise? Adaptive capabilities arose from evolution. In animals DNA does not directly yield properties, but recipes for the production of proteins, which are distributed by RNA. DNA yields a variety of recipes for making proteins, in a repertoire of response. The environment determines which recipe is triggered. This has been called ‘gene expression’, which yields ‘plasticity’ Plants also have this adaptive ability. In contrast with plants, people, and to a lesser extent animals, in addition have the ability to generate new recipes in response to their environment, in other words accommodation, reconstituting recipes of conduct. Plants cannot do that. For them, repertoires of recipes change only in evolution.

 Operating recipes that were developed in evolution, is ‘instinctive’, inborn. Human beings, and to some extent animals, can go beyond instinct In other words, change of response can be ‘ontogenetic’, in the life of the individual, while with plants it is only ‘phylogenetic’.

 Plants have also been said to ‘communicate’, but interaction is not yet communication. Intelligence is strongly connected to the use of language, where new sentences can be constructed almost infinitely, with words that can change meaning. Some animals have that in some form, such as whales, tunas, and some birds. Plants don’t.

 People and some animals have self-consciousness. Elephants do, and even some fish. This has been proven by painting a stain on their skin and putting them in front of a mirror. They move a bit to better inspect the stain, and try to remove it. My cat does not have a clue, and claws the mirror to try and enter the space reflected in it. 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

597. Aim of life

According to Nietzsche, the human being has an urge to manifest itself, fired by its ‘will to power’. According to Spinoza it struggles to survive, in what he called ‘conatus’. From biology we know that life struggles against decay, the increase of entropy. All this can be done egotistically, in self-interest, and it can be done benevolently, with regard to others.

In the foregoing I proposed that people should go for spiritual, intellectual and social expansion. Why are spiritual, intellectual and social expansion good? They arise from communicative interaction, and contribute to it. Perhaps we can say that humane interaction is the purpose of life. It need not be highbrow, and can be just a smile or hug.

The perspective of interaction for communication also applies to the relation between humanity and nature. We no longer need to see nature as the god Gaia, attribute homomorphic properties to it, and act as supplicants to it. Nature has no purpose and is indifferent to us, but it does respond. We one-sidedly exploited nature, and it responds with climate change.

The American naturalist Thoreau enjoyed just being in nature, feeling at one with its flow. Nature can inspire us to experience the dynamics I plead for. Nature is in constant change , of air, wind, rain, with waving trees and rippling ponds. And earth quakes, floods and tsunami’s. It is the exemplary manifestation of dynamics. God is everywhere in nature. The creator is not distinct from its creation, as. in German Romanticism. Thereby nature is divine.

If readers of this blog object or have additions, please let me know.


Friday, January 19, 2024

 596 What now?

 Using the work of Stephen Toulmin, in the preceding items of this blog I gave a rather grim survey of the development of thought in Europe since the 16th century. According to Toulmin’s analysis, In the 20th and 21st century, we have, regained some perspectives from the 16th century Renaissance, such as individuality, diversity, globalisation, scepticism, attention to practical affairs, and receptiveness to emotions next to reason. In the second half of the 20th century, and in the 21st century, we have turned back, in some respects, to old perspectives that developed from the 17th century, in particular universalism, absolutism, nationalism, isolationism, and an inclination towards authoritarianism. As an underlying inclination towards this and 17th century thought, Toulin suggested a desire for certainty and hierarchy, assumed to be needed for order.

 Individuality has now derailed into egotism, narcissism, and openness to emotions has evolved to the point of their  dominance, in irrationality and disregard of knowledge, logic and facts, in a slide into emotional outbursts, lies, fake news, false accusations, in particular on social media, which is destroying mutual trust between people, and between voters and government. Humanism is fading away again

 I am quite pessimistic about current developments, but someone said that one has a duty to exhibit optimism, and design futures of a possible better society. So, what could an attractive future look like? What features could or should that future harbour? I list a number of items:

             -          Tolerance or even embracing of uncertainty; adaptability, resilience

-          A dynamic view concerning knowledge, identity and being, language and morality

-          Scepsis concerning knowledge. Theory is indispensable, but rests upon axioms that can be debated

-          Objective truth  is an illusion. Instead of it ‘warranted assertability’, which includes the practical utility and history of a theory or claim

-          Acceptance of individuality, variation; tolerance. Identity as developing from interaction

-          Relational ontology: things evolve and decay in interaction with each other

-          Phronesis: judgement of conduct or morality while taking into account the conditions and background

-          Combining reason with emotions

-          Not rationality central, but being reasonable, prepared to listen

-          Interdisciplinarity

-          Seeing humanity and nature as a whole

 This clearly taps from the humanism of the Renaissance, shedding the later urge towards certainty and hierarchy, but wants to preserve reason next to emotions, and the use of theory in science, while recognising its imitations and dependence on underlying fundamental assumptions that  might need to change.

 I have pleaded for dynamics, but is change or movement always good? It can entail territorial expansion, of ‘life space’ as Hitler called it, increasing extraction of resources from the earth, destroying it, so that now we try to expand in outer space. The expansion includes the increase of riches and pleasure.

 What to do now? Life is movement, in a struggle against decay and increasing entropy. The body has a throbbing heart, breathing lungs; flows of blood that carry food and hormones, and flows of electric pulses through neurons. Aristotle already recognised how organism develops from an inner potential , in ‘physis’, like an oak from an acorn. Personal identity develops, within constraints of heritage and environment, in interaction between people, as discussed earlier. Thus life requires interaction. Dynamics is good if it engenders life. Intellectual and spiritual expansion are good.

 Why are spiritual and intellectual expansion good? They arise from communicative interaction, and contribute to it. Perhaps we can say that humane interaction is the purpose of life. It need not be highbrow, and can be just a smile or hug.

 The perspective of interaction for communication also applies to the relation between humanity and nature. We no longer need to see nature as the god Gaia, attribute homomorphic properties to it, and act as supplicants to it. It has no purpose and is indifferent to us, but it does respond. We one-sidedly exploited nature, and it responds with climate change.

 If readers of this blog object or have additions, please let me know..

Saturday, January 13, 2024

595 Rational or reasonable

 The ages of reason and Enlightenment, in the 17th and 18th century, were obsessed by reason. Following Descartes, people saw body and mind as separate. Ideal knowledge was context-independent, with universal truths, as in geometry. The body was part of chaotic, variable nature and not a respectable subject for science. Emotions overturned reason, and were to be avoided, to maintain objectivity and ‘clear and distinct ideas’, as Descartes called them

 There was a revival of 16th century humanism in the second half of the 20th century, which was more sceptical of the certain knowledge that science had claimed to offer, and appreciated the context-dependence and practical use of knowledge, which made room for the sciences of the human being and society. Emotions came to be seen as indispensable in human life, and even as embedded in the brain. Attention to practical affairs did still lag behind dominant theory.

 A humanistic perspective is critical of exclusive reason, and recognizes the inevitability and value of emotions, but does not proclaim irrationality. It offers being reasonable instead of only rational. It still appreciates logic and facts, but recognises their dependence on history and context. One can still practice and use science, but with scepsis. Science can be useful, but must make an effort to show that, and must recognise that it is based on presumptions or axioms that can be debated and can change in time. An example is Einstein’s theories trumping that of Newton. Attention to circumstances and background in human conduct is needed in ethical and moral judgement, where Aristotle called it ‘phronesis’, as discussed before, in this blog. Ethical and moral rules are seldom absolute and universal. An exception may be human rights.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

 594. Triggers of philosophical change

 In the previous items in this blog, I gave a rendering of Stephen Toulmin’s account of  the change of ideas and perspectives since the 16th century Renaissance, in the development of the second phase of ‘modernity’, since the 17th century.

 This entailed a shift to universalism, intolerance, neglect of individuality, geometry as the ideal of science, abstract theory independent of time or context, dogmatism, disregard and even disdain of practice, background and history.

 Why did this happen? Toulmin asked himself this question, and came up with two fundamental urges of people: flight from uncertainty and inclination towards hierarchy, deemed to be necessary to maintain order, in the flight from uncertainty.

 This mentality started to erode in the second half of the 20th century, with the rise of tolerance, acceptance of individuality and variety, sciences of man and society, rejection of hierarchy, non-abstract art, organic architecture, scepticism regarding science.

 However, I added that in the 21st century we seem to be backsliding, in a renewed flight from uncertainty, and a re-appreciation of authoritarian systems. We seem to go overboard in the appreciation of emotions and individuality, to the neglect of reason, logic, knowledge, facts and reciprocity in relations.

 The most fundamental urge seems to be the flight from uncertainty, and the evasion of risk, with the demand on government to take over risks.

 It is dubious that hierarchy is needed for order. The opposite, with leaders paying attention to the conditions and opinions of workers or citizens, seems to be better, creating more satisfaction and stability.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

593. Cycle of ideas in the history of philosophy

 According to the account given by Stephen Toulmin, in his book ’Cosmopolis’, the Renaissance of the 16th century, with the humanists Montaigne, Erasmus and Shakespeare, was followed by the modernist ‘anti-renaissance’ in the 17th century and the Enlightenment of the 18th century engendered by Galilei, Descartes, Newton, Kant, Spinoza, and the industrial revolution and imperialism in the 19th century, until a revival of ‘neo renaissance’ and anti-Enlightenment in the 20th century. Here I follow Toulmin, but will add an idea of my own concerning what might follow.

 In the 16the century, following the Renaissance, there was humanism, tolerance, rejection of certainty, scepticism, absolutism and universalism, dedication to practice as opposed to context and time-independent theory, as in legal and medical affairs, relativism, context-dependence of knowledge and judgement, and the acceptance of diversity of religion and culture. The French king Henri IV instituted the Edict of Nantes, which gave freedom of religion, in the struggle between Catholicism and emerging Protestantism. International trade blossomed, and here was the discovery of the Indies and South America by Portugal and Spain. This was the beginning of imperialism, but it was accompanied by interest in varieties of indigenous culture.

 This ended with the murder of Henry in 1610, and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, followed by the 30 year war of religion, absolutism and dogmatism in philosophy, science and government, the rise of autonomous states with absolute rule, the ‘Little Ice Age’, and widespread poverty. Philosophy and science followed the ideals of the abstract rigour of mathematics and logic, and empirical testing of formalised theory, but disregard of practical matters. History, rhetoric, emotions and practical science were neglected and derided for their context-dependence and lack of rigour An exception was the scepticism of David Hume. The ideal of the Enlightenment was the uncompromising use of reason and mastery of emotions. All this remains in Analytical Philosophy.

 Early opposition, in an emerging anti-Enlightenment, arose already in the 18th century, by Giambattista Vico, Schiller, Hamann, Herder, and Kierkegaard, and came to fruition in the 20th century. In the 18th century, Kant was sceptical of knowledge, but remained universalist in his ethics and anti-realism. in the 19th century, Nietzsche caused a break with rationalist and universalist knowledge in science and ethics. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the interest in practical matters was revived with the emergence of ‘pragmatist philosophy’ in the US, in particular that of John Dewey. He also held that the individual develops from interaction with others, ‘symbolic interactionism’, which inspired Habermas with his ‘Theory of communicative action’. What is now called ‘Continental Philosophy’, developed from the ‘Critical Theory’ of the ‘Frankfurter Schule’, with Adorno and Horkheimer, raising doubts about the Enlightenment ideal of rationalism, and with the scepticism of Wittgenstein. This was radicalised in the ‘Post-modern Philosophy’ of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and Rorty. Following Toulmin’s line of thought, this might be called a ‘New Renaissance’

 What we now see is a re-emergence of anti-renaissance absolutism, nationalism, universalism, isolationism, authoritarianism, intolerance , and exclusion of immigrants, in the emergence of rightist populism, in the US and Europe. We can hardly call this a ‘New Enlightenment’, in view of its disregard of reason, logic and facts. It threatens democracy. Some people seem to long for an authoritarian regime.

 What will next happen, in the history of ideas? Will there be a new restauration of Renaissance tolerance, and resistance to universalism and absolutism? Postmodernism has been mostly destructive, or, as Derrida would say, deconstructive. After postmodernism, what remains of logic, theory, mathematics and science? After destruction there should be reconstruction, in a new setting, as Derrida allowed. What theory can there be that does not get mired in universalism, absolutism, dogmatism, intolerance, while allowing for scepticism, and yet guides understanding and action in the world? I have argued that a next stage in the development of ideas could be dynamism, with the fluidity of ideas, and a relational ontology, with the evolution of ideas in interaction between things, which is unpredictable, disabling certainty, and thus is sceptical of what we know, is in what I have called ‘imperfection on the move’.


Bart Nooteboom, 2023, Dynamic coherence of continental philosophy, Aspekt publishers.

Bart Nooteboom, 2021, Process philosophy, Anthem publishers.