You are here: UNE Home / UNE Blogs / Klaus Rohde: Science, Politics and Art

Archive for the 'philosophy' Category

Niall Ferguson: Civilization, und Goethes Faust

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Der britische Historiker Niall Ferguson, bekannt unter anderem durch sein Buch The Pity of War, in dem er die Ursachen des Ersten Weltkrieges untersucht, und weitere Bücher, hat in einem brilliant geschriebenen Buch einen Abrisss der geschichtlichen Entwicklung der westlichen Zivilisation gegeben und versucht, die Ursachen ihres Erfolges zu verstehen (Civilization. The Six Killer Apps of Western Power, 2011). Auf Seite 305 (der Penguin Ausgabe von 2012) zählt er diese killler applications auf. Sie sind: Wettbewerb, wissenschaftiche Revolution, Herrschaft des Gesetzes und der representativen Regierung, moderne Medizin, die Verbrauchergesellschaft, und die Arbeitsethik. In einer Fussnote auf Seite 324 (sozusagen als Abschluss des Buches) erwähnt er als ‘foundational texts of Western civilization’ (als grundlegende Texte der westlichen Zivilisation) die folgenden Werke: King James Bible, Isaac Newtons Principia, John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments and Wealth of Nations, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, und Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (und als Anhang William Shakespeare’s plays und ausgewählte Reden von Abraham Lincoln und Winston Churchill).

Diese Auswahl scheint mir etwas einseitig anglozentrisch zu sein. Wie wäre es hiermit?:

Luthers Bibel (durch Gutenbergs Erfindung des Massendruckes der direkte Anlass zur schnellen Verbreitung des Wissens und aller späteren wissenschaftlichen Fortschritte), Johannes Kepler Astronomia Nova und Harmonices Mundi, Goethe Faust I und II, Immanuel Kant Über den ewigen Frieden, Johann Sebastian Bach Matthäus Passion, Beethoven Neunte Symphonie, Gregor Mendel Vererbungsgesetze, Max Weber Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, Ludwig Boltzmann Entropie, Max Planck Quantum, Albert Einstein Allgemeine Relativität. Und ferner (keine ‘Grundlagen’ der westlichen Zivilisation aber vielleicht mehr zukunftsweisend als zum Beispiel Konsumerismus und Wettbewerb): Die Upaschinaden und Arthur Schopenhauer Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.

Auf Seiten 65-66 zählt er die wichtigsten 29 “breakthroughs” zwischen 1530 und 1789 auf. Überraschend, Keplers Gesetze der planetarischen Bewegungen fehlen, ohne Zweifel eines der wichtigsten Entdeckungen der Renaissance und von vielen als von entscheidender Bedeutung für die wissenschaftliche Revolution im 17. Jahrhundert angesehen, eine wesentliche Vorraussetzung von Newtons Gravitationslehre. Die Entwicklung des binären Systems durch Leibniz sollte ebenfalls hier stehen.

Der bekannte schweizer Ökonom H.C. Binswanger hat in einem Buch ausführlich beschrieben, wie Goethe in seinem Faust die Entwicklung der modenen Welt dargestellt hat. Faust, der Repräsentant der modernen Welt, ist ein tatkräftiger Unternehmer, sein Erfolg möglich gemacht durch die Erfindung des Papiergeldes (das die Goldwährung erstetzt), die Äquivalenz zwischen Währung und produzierten Güter, und die Eigentumsgesetze). Historisch genau beschrieben ist im Faust die folgende Sequenz: 1. Papiergeld  (Bank of England), Dampfmaschine (James Watt) und damit Anfang der industriellen Revolution, Römisches Eigentumsgesetz des “Dominion”, d.h. das Recht zu benutzen und zu konsumieren: Code Napoleon). Goethe weist auch auf die potentiellen Gefahren hin: eine wirkliche Gefahr besteht darin, dass bei wirtschaftlicher Entwicklung die Konsequenzen für die Umwelt nicht in Rechnung gestellt werden. In anderen Worten, Faust ist der moderne Mann mit all seinen Stärken und Schwächen. In keinem der von Ferguson angeführten “foundation” – Texten wurde auf die potentiellen Gefahren durch die Zerstörung der Umwelt hingewiesen; Goethes Faust ist also zumindest in diesem Punkt viel zukunftsweisender.

Was die Bibel anbetrifft, nicht die King James Bibel sondern Luthers Bibel ins Deutsche übersetzt stand am Anfang der protestantischen Revolution und dem schnellen Anstieg der westlichen Macht, ihre Wirkung möglich gemacht durch Gutenbergs Erfindung des schnellen Massendruckes, von Ferguson als die wichtigste westliche Entwicklung vor der industriellen Revolution nur kurz früh in seinem Buch erwähnt. Was bei Ferguson ebenfalls fehlt ist die stärkere Betonung der typisch westlichen Musik die durch Bach, Mozart, Beethoven Wagner und viele andere zu einem Höhepunkt geführt wurde, und ein wesentliches Element des modernen westlichen Menschen ist.

Und was die Literatur anbetrifft, die von Ferguson erwähnten ‘plays’ von Shakespeare sind sicherlich schön und gross, doch welche Schlüsse auf die moderne Welt lassen sie zu? Grimmelshausen Der abenteuerliche Simplizissimus und Brecht Der Gute Mensch von Szechuan und Leben des Galilei scheinen mir in der Hinsicht relevanter zu sein.

Insgesamt, die erstaunlichen von Ferguson beschriebenen ‘Fortschritte’ (wenn man sie so nennen soll) der westlichen Welt in den letzten 300 Jahren sind vielleicht nicht mehr als ein Schluckauf in einer Geschichte, die kurz vor der Katastrophe steht, wenn wir die Fehlentwicklungen nicht in den Griff bekommen. Und können wir hoffen, dass die “foundations”, die von Ferguson gefundenen Grundlagen dieser Entwicklungen, ausreichen, eine bessere Zukunft zu sichern? Man muss wie Ferguson schon ein Bewunderer von Präsident Reagan, Margaret Thatcher und Churchill sein, um das zu glauben, und viele sind das nicht.

Ich schliesse mit einem Zitat von Noam Chomsky aus meinem vorhergehenden Post:

“Die menschliche Spezies gibt es schon vielleicht seit 100.000 Jahren und sie steht jetzt vor einem einzigartigen Moment in ihrer Geschichte. Diese Spezies ist jetzt an einem Punkt, an dem sich sehr bald entscheiden wird, in den kommenden Generationen, ob das Experiment des sogenannten intelligenten Lebens weitergehen wird oder wir fest entschlossen sind, es zu zerstören. Überwiegend erkennen Wissenschaftler, dass fossile Energieträger im Boden bleiben müssen, damit unsere Enkel eine Zukunft haben. Aber die institutionellen Strukturen unserer Gesellschaft versuchen, jeden Tropfen aus der Erde zu pressen. Die Folgen, die Auswirkungen der vorhergesagten Effekte des Klimawandels für die Menschheit in nicht sehr ferner Zukunft sind katastrophal und wir rasen auf diesen Abgrund zu.”

 

H. C. Binswanger. The Challenge of Faust. Science 281, 31 July 1998.

H. C. Binswanger. Money and Magic: a Critique of the Modern Economy in Light of Goethe’s Faust, University of Chicago Press 1994 (transl. from German).

Niall Ferguson. Civilization. The Six Killer Apps of Western Power. Penguin 2012.

Karl Kraus: The Last Days of Mankind. God created Man not as a Consumer but as a Human Being

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

We are living in a world in which conflicts, be they economic, military, cultural or religious, are getting worse with little inclination of the various “players” to compromise and find a solution acceptable to all. Each side believes or pretends to believe that it has the right on its side, or, in other words, that it has reached the pinnacle of history. In this, the world situation closely resembles that just before the first world war. If we want solutions, it may be helpful to look at how the world situation 100 years ago was reflected in intelligent/perceptive minds. One such mind was Karl Kraus, the famous Viennese satirist and critic who died in 1936. The “grumbler” or “begrudger” (original German “der Nörgler”, a character based on himself), in his satirical antiwar play “The last days of mankind” (Die letzten Tage der Menscheit, 200 loosely connected scenes largely based on actual events and characters, written during and in the first years after the first world war) says, according to http://www.thebaffler.com/salvos/hail-grumbler

God created man not as a consumer or producer but rather as a human being. That the means of life should not be the goal of life. That the stomach should not outgrow the head. That life is not exclusively based on the profit motive. That a human being is allotted time in order to have time and not to arrive somewhere faster with his legs than with his heart.

And, according to: http://thelastdaysofmankind.com/, referring to Kraus’s readings of portions of the play,

organized group travels to the battelfields of the war and the graves of the dead are a disgrace:

“The dead in their millions are hardly cold in the ground. What Kraus reads invokes the sacrifices made in passing, barely, cynically, tritely, before the details of itineraries, highlights, hotels, travel arrangements, their great advantages and pleasures of first class seats and tickets, etc., are expounded with an extraordinary gusto. This is some holiday! It is as grotesque and shameful as Kraus’s reading makes it.”

The play terminates in an apokalyptic scene, the extinction of mankind. Mankind in its entirety is the “antihero”, unworthy of life on earth because it has permitted the cruelties of war.

Kraus had written earlier in the play: “Lord forgive them for they do know what they do.”

 

Not to forget, Kraus wrote for German/Austrian readers and audiences. I am not aware of any English writers, excepting perhaps Thomas Hardy on  a much milder note, who attacked their leaders and compatriots with a similar degree of causticity.

 

Karl Kraus has been largely neglected in the anglophone countries, but translations of some of his works are now becoming more frequent. And considering the situation in the world today, his insights are of considerable importance. Indeed, it seems that little has changed over the last 100 years. The political situation worldwide is now as unstable as it was before the first world war when Karl Kraus wrote his play (conflicts between Russia and the EU over the Ukraine, between China and the USA over Southeast Asian islands; almost total collapse of social structures in Libya/Syria/Iraq/Afghanistan/some African countries largely as the result of wars; overpopulation pressure in Bangladesh and many other countries in Africa and elsewhere leading to mass migrations of refugees into more affluent countries). And: the economic outlook of the populace and its rulers in the so-called “Western”countries is similar: consume! consume! steered into this fallacy by much of the media which are largely under the thumb of the rich “elite”. Elections are won or lost not because of the merits of a policy concerning the future of the nation and indeed of mankind, but because of promises of short-term profits. – The results of the first world war were disastrous, directly leading to the vastly more devastating events of the second world war. However, what is happening now may be even worse: the survival of mankind is under threat if the effects of overpopulation, overconsumption and enviromental destruction, particularly that caused by climate change, are not brought under control.

Abridged English translation: The last days of mankind; a tragedy in five acts. an abridgement translated by Alexander Gode and Sue Allen Wright. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co. 1974. ISBN 9780804424844.

In the preface to the book edition Karl Kraus wrote ” Die Aufführung des Dramas, dessen Umfang nach irdischem Zeitmaß etwa zehn Abende umfassen würde, ist einem Marstheater zugedacht. Theatergänger dieser Welt vermöchten ihm nicht standzuhalten.” (The performance of the play, which would comprise about ten evenings, is meant for a Mars theatre. People of this world would not be able to take it).

An Ethical Basis for Nature Conservation: Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

In the last chapter of  the book edited by me “The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013″, we, i.e.  Klaus Rohde, Hugh Ford, Nigel R.Andrew and Harold Heatwole”  deal with “How to Conserve Biodiversity in a Nonequilibrium World”. The first section of the chapter discusses economic, esthetic and ethical arguments for conserving biodiversity. We conclude that in the modern world people are most impressed by economic arguments, whereas the ethics of the problem is very rarely considered. Are there ethical reasons for conserving biodiversity? We point out that there indeed are, convincingly demonstrated by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His philosophy is particularly suitable, because it appeals not only to philosophically educated Westerners, but also to all those who have a Buddhist or Hinduistic background, i.e. a very large proportion of mankind. Schopenhauer was the first Western philosopher who taught that ethical (moral) behaviour must be based on compassion with humans and animals. 

I have given a concise outline of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of ethics and justice earlier:

https://krohde.wordpress.com/article/arthur-schopenhauer-ethics-and-theory-xk923bc3gp4-106/

Here I mention a few important points in excerpts taken from my earlier essay:

Schopenhauer’s ethics and theory of justice follow from his epistemology, according to which the world as it appears to us, as we perceive it, is to a large degree shaped by our mental apparatus. Following Immanuel Kant, he assumes that time, space and causality are not characteristics of the thing-in-itself (“Ding an sich”) but categories of our mind. All distinctions between individuals disappear once these categories are taken away. In other words, all beings are in essence One.

Schopenhauer’s ethics has had a deep influence on many philosophers and writers after him. Albert Einstein, for example, mentions Schopenhauer as an important influence on his views. Schopenhauer was the first who arrived at conclusions similar to those in Eastern philosophy, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism. And he was the first in Western philosophy who based ethics on compassion with man and animals.

………  Schopenhauer develops a theory of ownership, of natural justice and law in general. Injustice is the original and positive, justice the derived and negative concept. “The only purpose of law is determent from encroaching on others’ rights”. Schopenhauer considers Kant’s thesis that humans should always be considered to be the end (“Zweck”) and never as means, as vague and problematic, because “a murderer sentenced to death must with full justification be used as means”, as a determent and for the re-establishment of public security. However, this applies only to justice in time (“zeitliche Gerechtigkeit”), eternal justice which applies to the entire world (that is, lies in its essence) and does not depend on human constructions (“Einrichtungen”), cannot be retaliatory, because it lies not in time unlike justice in time which is based on retaliation. “Punishment must here (in eternal justice) be connected with the crime in such a way that both are one.” If one wants to know what humans as a whole and in general are worth from a moral perspective, one only has to look at their fate as a whole and in general. This is indigence (“Mangel”), misery, agony and death. Eternal justice at work…..”. However, the “crude individual” has a different view, since he knows only the temporally and spatially separate appearances: he sees tormentors and murderers on the one side and sufferers and victims on the other, who are really only One. Nevertheless, in the depth of his consciousness he sometimes has the “somewhat dark hunch” that “all this is not entirely foreign to him”. Horror (“Grausen”) is founded on this sometimes appearing hunch. All evil in the world derives from the Will which is the real essence of each single person. Hence (Schopenhauer quotes Calderon’s “Life as Dream”, in which the Christian dogma of original sin is expressed: “Since the greatest guilt of man is that he was born”). – Esoterically depicted in the Vedas and especially in the Upanishads, the myth of transmigration expresses the cognition of eternal justice in an easily understandable form for the people. You must not kill an animal, because at a time in eternity you will be born as such an animal and suffer the same death”. This is the meaning of “tat twam asi” (This is you), which is the foundation of Hindu teaching. – In the same sense Christian ethics forbids retaliation of evil with evil and submits to eternal justice (“Revenge is mine, I shall retaliate, says the Lord”).

Our discussion to this point permits a description of the ethical significance of action. According to Schopenhauer, genuine virtue can come only from the insight which recognizes in a foreign being the same being as one’s own. “In principle (“an sich”) all deeds…. are just empty images, and only the attitude (ethos, “Gesinnung”) that leads to them, lends them moral significance.” The principle of justice (based on the negation of evil) commands that one must not hurt others.” Genuine goodness goes much further and leads to love of mankind  (“Menschenliebe”): one distinguishes much less than usually between oneself and others, one sacrifices one’s property and even oneself to one’s neighbour (“Nächster”) and one does not torture an animal. Love is based on the recognition of foreign suffering and pure love is therefore by its nature compassion. All this is in direct contradiction to Kant’s view that any truly good and virtuous deed is based on abstract reflection, on the concept of duty and the categorical imperative.

In Schopenhauer’s time (the first half of the 19th century), destruction of the environment had not become the important issue it is today. Hence, he does not deal with conserving the environment as such. However, his conclusion that moral behaviour of humans must be based on compassion with fellow humans and animals should be interpreted as meaning that animals must be protected and therefore also their habitats and the environment in general. In other words, we must not preserve organisms and the environment as a whole because they are of economic benefit to us, we must conserve them because we have an ethical responsibility towards nature, i.e., not only to the next generations of humans, but also to other living beings.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of the university?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/interview-terry-eagleton/2017733.fullarticle

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

The Silence of Animals

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

John Gray’s Godless Mysticism: On “The Silence of Animals”, as interpreted by Simon Critchley, see here:

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=1722&fulltext=1

A conclusion? “What will define the coming decades? I would wager the following: the political violence of faith, the certainty of environmental devastation, the decline of existing public institutions, ever-growing inequality, and yet more Simon Cowell TV shows. In the face of this horror, Gray offers a cool but safe temporary refuge.”

Why are the Chinese so clever, and why will they become even cleverer? A perhaps astonishing aspect of Communist politics. And 100 other problems that might and should worry or inspire students and others

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Chinese have had a long history of “eugenic” selection, by putting those in positions of influence who had passed rigorous state examinations. It seems that this policy has now been brought up to date by incorporating findings of modern science. How has the “West” responded?

See this very interesting article by an evolutionary psychologist. And see many other responses to the question of what one should worry about most.

http://edge.org/responses/q2013

Oswald Spengler re-visited. Where will American politics lead us?

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Oswald Spengler’s book “The Decline of the West” (“Der Untergang des Abendlandes”) has influenced influential historians and philosophers. Robert W. Merry, who has written extensively on American history and foreign policy, has given a concise and well argued discussion of the book and its implication for the present state of world affairs and particularly American politics.

Merry’s full article here:

http://nationalinterest.org/article/spenglers-ominous-prophecy-7878?page=show

Can science explain everything?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Among many scientists and the general public the view is widespread that the only justifiable approach to solving problems in nature is the scientific one. Is there a role for philosophy? What is the evidence for the multiverse approach to cosmology and for evolutionary explanations of why our universe seems to be fine tuned to the evolution of life? Can questions of ethics be resolved by science alone? Professor Austin L. Hughes, a distinguished biologist at South Carolina University, has given a penetrating analysis of the problems. See here:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-folly-of-scientism

Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

These two personalities had a discussion on Australian TV on religion and God. I did not see it but read various comments on it in newspapers. Good to hear that the CardinaI would admit atheists into Heaven, if he had a say in it. I have discussed The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins earlier, as well as views on religion by Heisenberg, Max Planck, Karl Marx and some others. See the attached link:

http://krohde.wordpress.com/article/richard-dawkins-the-god-delusion-terry-xk923bc3gp4-60/

Ethics and the responsibility for animals and nature

Friday, April 13th, 2012

In the current debate on climate change and other human induced effects on the environment it is important to reflect on the moral justification for large scale destruction of habitats and animal species by man. Do we have to consider only the well-being of fellow humans or of animals as well? Schopenhauer was, to my knowledge, the first Western philosopher who spoke out for the rights of animals.
For details see here:
http://krohde.wordpress.com/article/arthur-schopenhauer-ethics-and-theory-xk923bc3gp4-106/