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..

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