By Prof. German Melikhov, Alexey Melikhov (graduate student)
Kazan Federal University (Kazan/Russia)
This paper is a presentation for the International Conference on Philosophy for Children “Enlightenment today-Sapere aude! – Have courage to use your own understanding!”, October 19-22, 2017 (Graz/Austria).
Ruben Östlund, a Swedish director who won Palme d'Or on the recent Cannes Film Festival with his movie The Square, said in one of his interviews that we live in the society where we perceive other people as danger. He speaks about the 50s of the XXth century, times when his father was a child. Back then, his parents in Stockholm put a tag with the address onto their children and without any worries sent out kids onto the street. If something happens, someone would definitely help. Obviously, many people do so even today. However, the problem stated by Östlund still exists. Times are changing, the atmosphere of total distrust and disunity embraces not only different nations but also different generations of people living in an outwardly prosperous society. It is hard to argue with this fact.
“The atmosphere of total distrust and disunity” can be called mood. It is needless to say what the word means, everybody knows states of joy, sadness, uplift, melancholy etc. M. Heidegger spoke about the state of terror in which the whole of the world opens up to us. The mood expresses the relation to the world, painting it into certain colors. M. Proust wrote about the state of joy, the flow of blinding happiness, the premonition of the most important insights that made him feel the presence in the world. The feeling of threat is seemingly the opposite, it is gloomy, it makes you close up, remember about “yours”, “our interests” that are too explicitly abused by someone. However, even in the atmosphere of total distrust, one can see the world as absent, as a horizon (in a phenomenological sense) framing everyday problems. We think and act on the basis of a certain mood placing us in the world or reminding us about it. “The atmosphere of total distrust and disunity” only reminds us about the world as something desired. People search for the world, but cannot find it.
What weight does the words of a pedagogue or a philosopher have, if they are told from one state and perceived by people in different state? Will the meaning be distorted by the different mood of the listener? These questions cannot be ruled out.
A possibility to see the whole where it seems like there is none is a part of a philosophical attitude to life. The world, even if it is absent from relationships of people, still exists. We know what the world is and want to obtain it. An ability to think and act while taking into account what is absent, giving in to the philosophical mood, the feeling of the whole, like nothing changes. Everything stays the same, except for one thing – the world opens to us as a value.
Can a person discuss philosophical topics while not being captivated by the philosophical mood, by the feeling that the whole is real which is familiar to M. Heidegger and M. Proust?
Philosophizing is not only a reflection on certain ideas, but also willingness to share the philosophical mood. A shared mood makes previously difficult to understand ideas obvious. If an attempt to share the mood fails, and it happens quite often, philosophical speech loses any sense. Listeners or readers start to confuse words with thoughts. What can one say about philosophy while being outside of philosophical attitude to the world? Philosophical conversation even between people of different views is possible within the same philosophical attitude to the world. Disagreement does not mean that there cannot be peace. “The philosophical attitude” grows in a person’s soul. It grows faster in case with some people, and slower in case with others. But it is hardly possible to “create” such attitude on a whim. The philosopher is then to remain beside. Being beside while waiting for a person to become mature is called to accompany. Those who accompany do not teach, they ask questions, but even more often they listen and look. The anticipating attention, active and unobtrusive, is the meaning of accompanying.
Kant's understanding of the Enlightenment as maturity implies accompaniment. Kant asks the question: “What is the Enlightenment?” and answers it. Enlightened is the one who has the courage to think for himself or herself. Among other things, it means that even for this question, we must find the answer by ourselves. We are given the duty to think and always find the courage to do it because of the need that has arisen. Courage to think for yourself is one of the main merits of a person. I would like to talk about the philosophical attitude to the world, an important part of which is maturity or courage to follow the path of thought. Kant does not demand anything from others, understanding the inappropriateness of such desire. He speaks while being beside, waiting for a possible response which can happen not necessarily soon. Kant continues to accompany us.
Maturity is not a mood. The mood expresses the attitude to the world, but the attitude cannot be reduced to the mood. Maturity is not a feeling, but a complex of experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc., connected by a certain attitude towards the world.
It is said that Confucius thought that a noble person lives in consent with everyone, but does not follow them. Consent does not exclude distance, and disagreement does not necessarily imply a confrontation. There is a “middle path” that lies between conformism and conflict. You can get along with many, but go your own way. It is obvious. Such a way of thinking is based on a relationship to the world, which is appropriate to call “the moderation”. Moderation refers to the “common”, to what can bear meaning for everybody and nobody (what is valuable in itself). Moderation is the ability to maintain balance, the balance of “yours” and “other’s”, which implies going beyond both of these. “Common” in the philosophical sense is not a common feature, or a standardizing totality, but something more subtle – a sense of balance, a feeling of harmony and connection that are as real as our or others interests.
How is it possible to maintain a balance in an atmosphere of total distrust? Hard to say. However, another thing is clear: thinking is based on the sense of balance. In this case, it is “constructive” and, possibly, bears in itself the “good”, which Socrates encouraged to always keep in mind. Does thinking have any value without the sense of balance? In general, yes. You can solve many problems without taking into account the feeling of the whole. But we are speaking about the philosophical attitude to the world. It was this attitude that was characteristic of doctor Zhivago, a poet and thinker, the main character of Boris Pasternak's novel of the same name.
The civil war was raging in Russia. By the will of fate, doctor Zhivago, along with his lover, happened to be temporarily away from the flames of war. Around him devastation, thousands and millions of people, some for the sake of the idea of a bright future, others for the sake of the idea of a sacred past, clash, kill, punish and re-forge each other, violently and mercilessly. Zhivago is equally remote from the past (he understands that it cannot be returned), and from the future (it is visible in the present, and the doctor does not like what he sees). Zhivago, not belonging to anyone, obeyed the feeling of the whole. The doctor went through many hardships, he was in captivity, he starved, fell seriously ill, he fought. How did he manage, despite all this, to keep his vision fresh? How did he manage to perceive the world that has fallen into a fratricidal slaughter as still astonishingly wonderful?
Again, it is hard to say. Most likely, Confucius and doctor Zhivago, trusting the balancing feeling of the whole, could distance themselves. The philosophical attitude to the world includes distancing.
Kant provides a wonderful insight into distancing. Answering the question “What is Enlightenment?” Kant introduces the notion of a public mind, interpreted usually, as M. Foucault does, for example, in terms of political relations. Without denying the validity of this approach, it makes sense to look at the problem from the point of view of an individual for whom politics does not occupy a dominant position in their thinking. “Public mind”, most likely, refers to the feeling of the whole, probably familiar to Kant.
A reasonable person in their thoughts and actions has in mind the Other. He or she learns to respect other people. He or she is motivated by attention to the Other. Maybe the public policy firstly should become “attention to the Other” and only then “the question of power”? Should not thinking at first be “attention to the Other” and only then “attention to the conceivable subject”? The French philosopher E. Levinas had such approach. He spoke of ethics as the “first philosophy”. But Kant’s idea was even earlier. For him the not-named sense of the whole, the source of balance and moderation, preceded both ethics, aesthetics, and philosophical logic. Attention to the Other implies distancing: a look at yourself and what is happening through the eyes of another person. Interest in another person is manifested in our ability to take their place, leaving for a while “yourself” “Citizen of the World” is the one who managed to distance themself, accepting that the existence of the Other is real. “Citizen of the World” trusts the feeling of the whole, which brightly manifests itself in sincere and lively attention to another person. Do we need any proof here? Ethical attitude is based on distancing, although it is not reduced to it.
Equally, distancing also determines aesthetic judgment. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant defines taste (“The first moment of the judgment of taste”) as the ability to judge a subject on the basis of a feeling of pleasure or displeasure free from any interest. Kant, like doctor Zhivago, trusts the “feeling of the whole” with his distancing effects. We judge the beautiful, staying in a special mood, being indifferent to ourselves, to all our interests, including interests of feelings and interests of mind. Observation of the forms of things, distracted from one's own interest, is called “contemplation” Aesthetic contemplation presupposes a distance, framed by feeling. Distant from our interests, we involuntarily get involved in the space of meanings. There was a remarkable thinker M. Mamardashvili in Russia, he spoke about the aesthetics of thinking, referring to the joy that disinterested, unselfish contemplation of meanings brings. And, of course, it is a joy from the perception of things in the light of the universal, comprehensive connection, balance and measure of diverse “parts”, the feeling familiar to doctor Zhivago or M. Proust.
A lively attention to another person is also an attention to the meaning. Those who accompany on the way of thought anticipates the manifestation of meaning. Maturity or the path of thought is marked by one feature that might seem not so important – after all, we are not talking about the rating of scientific activity and the number of publications. A person who is on the path of thought, whether they accompany someone or not, turns out to be disinterested observer or independent observer. Independent from whom? Kant states: independent from yourself. All of it turns out to be very simple: unselfish thinking is the source of joy. Philosophy is also an opportunity to share a joyful mood that the meeting with a meaning that is important to you has created.
Accompanying is a part of the philosophical attitude to the world, if the accompanying person manages (at least temporarily) to become a contemplator or an observer. Socrates, apparently, was a contemplator, but it did not prevent him from carrying out the activity of accompanying, the purpose of which is maieutics, the desire to share the joy of meeting with thought. Kant in his Critique of Judgment appears as a remarkable contemplator as well.
Another noteworthy feature of the Kantian understanding of the path of thought or maturity is what can be called “the assumption of commensurateness.” A mature person assumes that the world he or she is dealing with is complex, it does not fit into our ideas about it, nevertheless it is still commensurate with their efforts A mature person can always find a place that is commensurate with themself. They will do what they are capable of at the moment, and make decisions that will make their actions appropriate. This sense of the proportionality of the world with the efforts of one person are especially vividly expressed in Descartes' Discourse on the Method, where the French philosopher stated that the sciences enclosed in books that are grown from the opinions of many people are not as close to the truth as the simple thoughts of one reasonable person.
Modern thought is based on another assumption: life has become excessively complicated, it is not wise to talk about an individual and things commensurate with him or her. A human is a part of different systems that function, sometimes synchronously: practices and discourses, unconscious processes, neurophysiological mechanisms, virtual reality, etc., which are beyond the efforts of not only one, but also of many people. However, in fact, Kant or Descartes did not deny this. They said, apparently, something different: no matter how complicated the world is, there is a place for each of us. And this is the position of a mature person. The perception of another person as a threat, most likely, is our reaction to the lost sense of proportionality to the world. The search for greater control hardly indicates a way out of this situation. Trying to overcome the difficulties by strengthening control does not solve the initial problem: the world is still not a value. The world is one thing, and our interests are another, completely different. You cannot find a place where you are not yet.
The Kantian idea of transcendentalism contains a different assumption. A person and the world are intertwined from the very beginning. There is no world that exists by itself, apart from human. The world is revealed to us in the forms prescribed by the mind. A reasonable person is placed into the world. The world (as a place of growing) is the space of our thinking in the sense that principally we can always find a place commensurate with our possibilities. But this does not mean that the world solipsistically centers around us. “Things in themselves” exist in the world. Just like a mind opening the space of freedom, creating distances. The idea of the proportionality of the world to the effort of one reasonable person, which found its expression in Kant’s transcendentalism, is the basis of the Kantian idea of a mature man or a man of the path of thought. A mature person is in the world. When we reject Kant's transcendentalism, do we deprive ourselves of the soil, familiar for Descartes and many others sense of the equilibrium connection, balance, integrity of an individual and the world open to a mature soul?
Can a person philosophize without feeling the reality of the whole? I think, no. But it does not matter. Not everyone can and must deal with philosophy. It applies equally to mathematics or philology. The path of thought does not always intersect with philosophy. Maturity and occupation of philosophy (however, like any other subject) are not mutually inversive. In turn, philosophizing does not always remain within the boundaries of academic thought. Perhaps philosophizing is beyond philosophy. Doctor Zhivago, a poet and medic, is an example of that. But any genuine philosophizing, even remaining within the boundaries of generally accepted forms of philosophy, involuntarily pushes them apart. An example of this is Kant, philosophizing in/out of philosophy. The philosopher unwillingly pushes the boundaries of philosophy when he pays more attention to the world and other people than to ideas and concepts. Then he becomes an “accompanying”. The philosophizing of an accompanier, based on questioning distancing, has in mind only one goal – to share with another person the joy of meeting with the thought.
Experiencing the joy, perhaps, will allow someone to understand: life, no matter how difficult it is, is commensurable with the effort of an individual if he or she manages to keep himself or herself on the way of thought.
Kant continues to accompany us.