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CURIOSITY: The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace
more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning,
to give oneself entirely over to curiosity.

   

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donald palmer roland barthes

“Literature for Barthes is not the bearer of meaning but a critique of meaning. Literature, in refusing to assign any final meanings, can be shown to have an anti-theological mission that is truly revolutionary, because the refusal of fixed meanings is the refusal of God.”

walker percy — from “the moviegoer”

What is the nature of the search? you ask.   

Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn't miss a trick.        

To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.

The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place — but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.

What do you seek — God? you might ask with a smile.

I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached — and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics — which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions.  

Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles ahead of my fellow Americans or a hundred miles behind? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?

On my honor, I do not know the answer.

adam phillips — frenzy of need

The frenzy of need baffles the learning experience.

For me, psychoanalysis has always been of a piece with the various languages of literature - a kind of practical poetry - taking life, as theory and practice, from a larger world of words.

Having changed reality in pursuit of success, we realize that we are at cross-purposes with ourselves. . . . Satisfactions can be described as both repeating and modifying earlier satisfactions. . . . The picture becomes complicated when satisfaction for one part of the self is frustration for another. . . . anyone who is failing at one thing is always succeeding at another.

It can be useful to think of ourselves as multiple personalities, of our internal worlds more like a novel than a monologue. Each character, or part of ourselves, has different projects, and different criteria for success, so some people, for example, live as though they would prefer to be morally right than sexually satisfied, or clever rather than ordinary.

We are always doing at least two things at once, and this can mean that the art of psychotherapy is turning what feel like contradictions - incompatibilities - into paradoxes.   This does not entail ironing out the conflicts, but rather extending the repertoire of ways of describing them.

We can think of success, at any developmental stage, as being related to issues of self-sufficiency. . . . the frenzy of need baffles the learning experience. . . . There is, of course, no rule that people have to grow up; there are just consequences to not doing so (and each person has a different sense of what that entails). . . . People can go to remarkable lengths to avert the catastrophe of their own success. More from Mr. Phillips> Finding Your Flower>

karl popper — momentous innovation
• The Popper Page>

"I like to think that Thales was the first teacher who said to his pupils: 'This is how I see things — how I believe that things are. Try to improve upon my teaching.' ... At any rate there is the historical fact that the Ionian school was the first in which pupils criticized their masters, in one generation after another."

"It was a momentous innovation. It meant a break with the dogmatic tradition which permits only one school doctrine, and the introduction in its place of a tradition that admits a plurality of doctrines which all try to approach the truth by means of critical discussion. It thus leads, almost by necessity, to the realization that our attempts to see and to find the truth are not final, but open to improvement; that our knowledge, our doctrine, is conjectural; that it consists of guesses, of hypotheses, rather than of final and certain truths; and that criticism and discussion are our only means of getting nearer to the truth."

From “Kant’s Critique and Cosmology,” an essay in “Conjectures and Refutations.”

Kant’s Copernican Revolution in the field of ethics is contained in his doctrine of autonomy — the doctrine that we cannot accept the command of an authority, however exalted, as the ultimate basis for ethics. For whenever we are faced by a command from an authority, it is our responsibility to judge whether this command is moral or immoral. The authority may have the power to enforce its commands, and we may be powerless to resist. But unless we physically prevented from choosing, the responsibility remains ours. It is our decision to obey a command, whether to accept an authority.

Kant boldly carries this revolution into the field of religion. Here is a striking passage:

“Much as my words may startle you, you must not condemn me for saying: every man creates his God. From the moral point of view … you even have to create your God in order to worship in Him your creator. For in whatever way … the Deity should be made known to you, and even … if he should reveal Himself to you: it is you … who must judge whether you are permitted [by your conscience] to believe in Him and to worship him.”

Kant’s ethical theory is not confined to the statement that a man’s conscience is his moral authority. He also tries to tell us what our conscience may demand from us. Of this, the moral law, he gives several formulations. One of them is, “Always regard every man as an end in himself and never use him merely as a means to your ends.” The spirit of Kant’s ethics may well be summed up in these words: dare to be free, and respect the freedom of others.

ENLIGHTENMENT AND ETHICS

Kant believed in The Enlightenment. He was its last great defender. He wrote:

“Enlightenment is the emancipation of man from a state of self-imposed tutelage … of incapacity to use his own intelligence without external guidance. Such a state of tutelage I call ‘self-imposed’ if it is due, not to lack of intelligence, but to lack of courage or determination to use one’s own intelligence without the help of a leader. Sapere aude! Dare to use your own intelligence. This is the battle-cry of The Enlightenment.”

Kant is saying something very personal here. It is part of his own history. Brought up in near poverty, in the narrow outlook of Pietism — a severe German version of Puritanism — his own life was a story of emancipation through knowledge. … One might say that the dominant theme of his whole life was the struggle for spiritual freedom.

KANT’S HISTORIC ROLE

Stepping back further to get a still more distant view of Kant’s historical role, we may compare him with Socrates. Both were accused of perverting the state religion and of corrupting the minds of the young. Both denied the charge and stood up for freedom of thought.

To the Socratic idea of self-sufficiency, which forms part of our Western heritage, Kant has given a new meaning in the fields of both knowledge and morals. And he has added further to it the idea of a community of free men — of all people. For he has shown that all people are free, not because we are born free, but because we are born with the burden of responsibility for free decision. The Popper Page>

hilary putnam — no view from Nowhere

Elements of what we call "language" or "mind" penetrate so deeply into what we call "reality" that the very project of representing ourselves as being "mappers" of something "language independent" is fatally compromised from the start. Realism is an impossible attempt to view the world from Nowhere.

We should accept the position we are fated to occupy in any case, the position of beings who cannot have a view of the world that does not reflect our interests and values, but who are, for all that, committed to regarding some views of the world — and for that matter some interests and values — as better (or more inspirational) than others.

 


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QUOTES

UNCERTAINTY: Living with no supernatural justifications,
no complete explanations, no promise of permanent
stability, with guides of merely probable validity.