2003: Summaries

Contents (in Dutch)

Frank Baeyens
Summary: From Cogito to Being, and backwards
The late Merleau-Ponty several times describes Being as “level” or “dimension”. Merleau-Ponty elaborately analyses this notion in Phenomenology of Perception. Therefore one would expect commentators to fall back on Phenomenology of Perception in their effort to understand the Merleau-Pontyan Being. And yet they do not. They presuppose that the late Merleau-Ponty discredits his first texts because these texts are still to much stuck in the track of the philosophy of consciousness. More specifically, the late Merleau-Ponty is said to have distanced himself from the tacit cogito, and therefore the analyses linked up with that tacit cogito are said to decrease in value.
I show in this article that Merleau-Ponty does not reject the tacit cogito, but that time and again he broaches this theme in an evolution that is marked by continuity rather than discontinuity: the tacit cogito from Phenomenology of Perception (1) turns up again in The Visible and the Invisible in the shape of the “reversibility” (2), and in the Notes de cours 1959-1961 in the shape of “vertical cogito” (3). In order to give the necessary relief to this evolution, I here and there compare the tacit cogito to Sartre’s triad: consciousness, transcendental ego and transcendent ego.
Starting from the continuity in Merleau-Ponty’s work, I can demonstrate in a last point (4) that the analysis of the “level” in Phenomenology of Perception, which is indeed connected to the tacit cogito, offers interesting perspectives to understand Merleau-Ponty’s Being.

Roland Breeur
Summary: Thinking and Willing. With Reference to Descartes’ Fourth Meditation
Descartes’ Fourth Meditation, on Truth and Falsity, bears on a notion of freedom that often was identified with a thomistic model. In this model the freedom of indifference is caused by an accidental lack of knowledge and is thus subordinated to the tendency to give spontaneously our assent to what we clearly perceive. However, exploring more in detail the relation between the understanding and the will (and the lumen naturale), it is argued that the will refers to a notion of freedom that does not coincide neither with the molinist notion of indifference, nor with the thomist notion of spontaneity.

Roland Breeur
Summary: “A Peculiar Effort of Mind.” On Ideas and Reality in Descartes
Descartes is often presented as the “father” of modern subjectivity, because of his identification of thinking and being (cogito ergo sum). However, the autonomy of the cogito rests for its validation on the idea of the infinite. Consequently, what is the relation between the subject and that idea? This article tries to elucidate the complex role of an idea which, as Descartes himself seemed to admit, is very ambiguous, being “cognocibilis et effabilis” and “ineffabilis et incomprehensibilis” at the same time. This ambiguity, as is argued, determines the very nature of the “cartesian subject” as such and that Descartes describes as being “something intermediate between God and nothingness”. What is this “between”?

Arnold Burms
Summary: Moral Luck and Symbolic Restoration
This paper does not question the thesis that the phenomena associated with the phrase ‘moral luck’ point to an important philosophical problem. The aim is, rather, to sketch an interpretation of these phenomena. It is argued that the notion of symbolic restoration is the key we need to understand why the outcome of our actions has a moral significance that is not reducible to the moral significance of the mental states from which these actions arise.

Francis P. Coolidge Jr.
Summary: On Divine Madness, its Relations to the Good, and the Erotic Aspect of the Agapeic Good
In this paper I argue that there are seven stages, or orientations, of thought about divine madness (initially understood by Plato as eros) with each stage offering claims, or critiques of claims, about its nature. Moreover, each orientation offers a claim, or a critique of a claim, about a relation to the Good that comes through divine madness. My account of the stages is greatly indebted to, but divergent from, the work of William Desmond. Hence, my thought is metaxological and the discussion of the stages takes its bearings from the “between” of eros and agape. I make reference to Desmond’s work in order to develop and contrast my own view of the Good as both agapeic and erotic. I argue that the agapeic activity of the Good has an erotic aspect. This aspect of the Good is not an incompleteness or need; rather, it is an absence that “contains” the Good’s agapeic activity of creation. Further, this aspect serves not to realize the Good but to ground the becoming in creation (including the movement of our eros through the seven stages of divine madness). I develop how in the seventh stage our eros dynamically images the erotic aspect of the Good’s activity by consciously intermediating its relations to the other.

D.L. Couprie en Heleen J. Pott
Summary: Fear of Falling.Heaven and Earth in Ancient Cosmology
The idea of the spherical world, poised in space, and encircled at different distances by the celestial bodies, was introduced by the early Greek cosmologists. With some modifications, it is still our Western world-picture. It differs fundamentally from that of other cultures, which all accept, in one version or another, the iedea of a flat earth with the dome of the celestial vault above it. The Greek conception, however, entails the problem of falling. How to account for the earth’s stability? Why is it that the earth does not fall? This anxious question has already bothered the Presocratics. Aristotle provided the solution that was satisfying for many hundred of years. Falling, according to Aristotle, is not the problem, but the answer, as the earth, consisting of the heaviest of the elements, finds its natural place in the centre of the spherical universe. For the same reason the earth itself, according to Aristotle, has to be spherical. Thus, his main line of argumentation was what we now would call ‘metaphysical’. Recently, some scholars have argued that the early Greek idea of a spherical earth was developed as a proto-scientific hypothesis, based on empirical reasoning and observation. In this article, we show this to be an example of the ‘anachronistic fallacy’ that seriously obscures our understanding of the ancient Greek philosophers. Aristotle’s conception held for two millenia, until the work of Copernicus, Kepler, and Thomas Digges overthrew it. Consequently, Newton had to cope with the fear of falling again — a fear that still haunts our modern world-picture and that was brilliantly articulated by Blaise Pascal, in his Pensées.

Andreas De Block
Summary: Creative with Sexuality. On the Impossibility of a Freudian Theory of Sublimation
Sublimation is usually defined as a defense-mechanism that desexualizes the sexual instincts. This desexualization then results in socio-cultural activities and psychic health. That means that sublimation is a crucial concept for psychoanalytic thinking, because it seems to connect the Freudian metapsychology with both applied psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy. However, in this article I argue that within Freud’s theory sublimation is an empty and redundant concept. It is a redundant concept as far as it ‘explains’ the socio-cultural tendencies of human beings, since these tendencies can be easily understood as the outcome of other defense-mechanisms, such as repression and identification. For that matter, Freud’s only example of the sublimation process — found in Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of his Childhood — is in fact no sublimation, but a classic example of repression followed by symptom-formation. Secondly ‘sublimation’ is an empty concept with regard to the psychoanalytic therapy, because in that context it is used to explain something that simply never happens, at least according to Freud, namely a perfect recovery and a completely ‘terminable’ analysis.

H. De Dijn
Summary: Monsters and Lotteries
According to many scientists and philosophers, recent biotechnological discoveries and advances lead inescapably to the new, fundamental question: why consider the existing (biological) nature of man as untouchable, as sacred? Whereas the general public feels fear and outrage at the very thought of the creation of ‘monsters’, leading bioethicists find all this talk about the sacredness of human nature unacceptable or prejudiced. It is argued here that an answer to the question “is the existing human nature sacred?” cannot be given unless another question is answered first: “why preserve our ethical way of life (as very strongly intertwined with certain biological distinctions)?” In the remaining part of this paper, the desire to transcend existing human nature is understood by linking it to two different forms of dissatisfaction with the (present) human way of life: it can find its origin either in the unwillingness to accept certain ‘lotteries’ producing all kinds of unequality among people, or in the desire to willingly lose oneself in a game of endless genetic experimentation.

Marc De Kesel
Summary: Sublimation and Perversion. The Genesis and Importance of a Conceptual Distinction in Lacan
Psychoanalytical theory’s main axiom tells that drive does not function in a ‘natural’, but in a distorted and ‘perverted’ way. Drive’s most basic purpose is not the organism’s self-preservation, but its ‘pleasure’ (Freud: Lustprinzip). That is why life, being natural and biological, is not lived naturally and biologically: the organism takes a ‘polymorph perverse’ distance towards its natural, biological functioning and, in that very distance, ‘enjoins’ it. On the most fundamental level, it lives from that very ‘pleasure’. Lacan’s theory of desire is an elaboration of that Freudian thesis on the polymorph perverse pleasure principle. The Lacanian ‘ethics of desire’, elaborated in his sixth and seventh seminar, is built upon that thesis as well. That is why, at the very end of his sixth seminar (1958/59), he defines sublimation as ‘perverse’ and therefore of ethical value: in a non-repressing way, sublimation opens up desire to its polymorph perverse ground. However, in the next seminar (on “the ethics of psychoanalysis”, 1959/60), Lacan changes his theory on both sublimation and perversion. Now, sublimation is defined as the cultural gesture by which we put a desired object on the level of ‘das Ding’ (the Thing, a new concept introduced in that seminar to name an object, which is not a signifier). Here, perversion gets an ethically negative meaning: for, so Lacan argues, when we put ourselves as subject at the position of that Thing, we act like a pervert, and abuse the ethical rule for immoral purposes. The article follows in detail this shift in Lacan’s theory and discusses its important impact on his thesis on ethics.

Frans De Wachter
Summary: How Radical Is Radical Evil?
There is a general consensus that the concept of “absolute evil” was coined in order to account for the moral atrocities of the twentieth century. The connotations associated with such a concept are usually threefold: (1) such an evil is not to be understood negatively as a privation of goodness, but as a positive force; (2) such an evil can not be accommodated into any onto-theological order of being, but rather refers to the collapse of such an order; (3) such an evil is diabolical, motivated by the negation of moral law as such, and not by the pursuit of egoistic interests. Moreover, there is a general consensus that Kant’s concept of “radical evil” is not radical enough to approximate to this excess of evil, specially since Kant categorically denies the possibility of devilishness. The purpose of this paper is to question this consensus. On the one hand, it is doubtful whether demonic interpretations can provide us with a deeper insight in the moral horrors of the twentieth century. They rather relieve us of our responsibilities, because they withdraw evil from our everyday experiences of weakness. On the other hand, it can be shown that Kant’s idea of radical evil, notwithstanding his rejection of the demonic, is much more disturbing than is generally admitted: (1) evil originates in an act of freedom, not in being overwhelmed by desire; (2) the evil of hatred is already prefigurated in the banal evil of indifference; (3) evil is enracinated in a “moral state of nature”, where we can only develop our self-respect by continuously comparing ourselves with others, thus initiating ruthless forms of competition. The conclusion proposes to radicalize Kant’s notion of evil, not in the direction of a demonic connotation, but in a direction indicated by Levinas: by referring to the experience of the victim. Only confronted with the suffering of others that is caused by me, my moral failure appears to be more than lack or privation: it is inherently excessive, since the victim experiences its own suffering as an intrinsic malignity that can not be accommodated into any order of being.

Christopher M. Gemerchak
Summary: The Site of Sublimation: From Dualism to the Dialectic
Taking up the critique of Freud’s concept of sublimation as presented by Norman O. Brown in Life against Death, this essay endeavours to present an alternative reading of sublimation which follows Brown’s intention, but restructures his methodology. Brown wanted to subvert what he read to be the neurotic culture of sublimation by forcing the subject into recognition of the excessive, “Dionysian” aspects of reality, which sublimation specifically denies. He strove to accomplish this by replacing Freud’s avowed dualism with a dialectical viewpoint that is based on the Romantic movement from an original natural unity, through differentiation (sublimation), and then a return to the original unity on a higher level. This third movement is, in his opinion, what is lacking from sublimation. Although Brown ends by reverting to the dualism he opposed, his approach points the way to the version of sublimation as presented by Jacques Lacan, and to the dialectical theory of sacrifice as found in the works of Georges Bataille. The revised account of sublimation that results from reading Lacan and Bataille together is presented as following the dialectic of sacrifice, with the work of art becoming the sacrificial site of sublimation. By reading sublimation in this way, a path is opened to view sublimation as capable of revealing something essential to the subject, and thus of altering its self-consciousness, something which Freud was never willing to grant to sublimation. Ultimately, this re-evaluation of sublimation is posited as being much more appropriate than the Freudian account for the analysis of contemporary art.

P. Guenancia
Summary: Descartes. Subjectivity and the Passions of the Soul
The question this paper addresses is whether, and under what conditions, one can apply the concept of subjectivity to Descartes’ philosophy. It is, to be sure, a widespread opinion that the Cartesian cogito has prepared the way for modern philosophy by showing that the mind is capable to doubt anything but its own existence — this latter certainty being the basis or the foundation for everything that can be known. But the real question is whether the knowledge the mind has of itself is of the same order as the knowledge it has of other things. If this were the case, Descartes would have thought the mind (or the Ego) not as a subjectivity but as just a special kind of thing. Hence the further problem triggered by this interpretation which we shall oppose: can the mind be said to have a representation or an idea of itself, as it would have of all other things? On the reading offered here, the mind is not a thing that should differ from other things by certain characteristics of its own. To the contrary, as the capacity to know everything else, the mind knows itself as an activity. The substance of the soul, accordingly, is nothing but its ability to know all other things and to know itself as distinct from them. This alternative conception of Cartesian subjectivity is further developed and argued for in the remainder of this paper which focuses on the main points of Descartes’s theory of the ‘passions of the soul’. Here, as elsewhere, Descartes thinks of the soul as a power that becomes aware of itself in and through the resistance with which it opposes the passions. The soul is thus not at all to be thought of in terms of some sort of self-intimacy, or as a proximity to itself. According to our reading, the absolute good for the Cartesian subject is the free will (the liberum arbitrium) which it senses in itself. Hence also the meaning and central place of the concept of generosity for Descartes: it has to do with the soul’s self-esteem which it derives from the usage it makes of this freedom.
The soul, then, is an ability or a capacity; it has to be conceived of in terms of the usage it makes of its freedom and of its experiencing itself as such freedom. There is no other dimension, be it in metaphysics or in morals, to the Cartesian subjectivity than this one. It is this conception that makes Descartes’s subject so different from other modern conceptions of subjectivity.

Dirk R. Johnson
Summary: On the Way to the “Anti-Darwin”. Nietzsche’s Darwinian Meditations in the Middle Period
Nietzsche’s mature philosophy developed in intense antagonistic struggle with Charles Darwin and his theories. Many of Nietzsche’s positions — for example, his notion of strong and weak wills, his concept of the overman and the will to power — are inconceivable without Darwin. In his final works, however, Nietzsche clearly expressed that he wished to be remembered as an “anti-Darwinian.” This article traces the development of Nietzsche’s Darwinian association, from the period of his earliest sustained references to Darwin — in his ‘David Strauss’ Essay of 1873 — until Zarathustra. It will argue that Nietzsche’s philosophy in the middle period displayed an intense preoccupation with Darwin, and that Darwin’s genealogical approach to the question of morality helped Nietzsche to locate and articulate his own hypotheses concerning morality and its origins. But instead of becoming closer to Darwin and his followers, Nietzsche had begun to explore alternative perspectives, which ultimately rendered his philosophy incompatible with Darwinism. This article will examine several key areas where Nietzsche had begun to diverge from Darwin, and how this middle-period critique opened up the vantage-point for his final anti-Darwinian position.

Elke Lagae
Summary: Kant and the Problem of Supererogation: Between Fanaticism and Superlative Virtue
Supererogatory acts are usually characterized as acts that fit the following criteria: (1) they are beyond duty and (2) they are morally good. The combination of these two elements — optionality and praiseworthiness — has the effect of singling out a category of acts amenable to moral assessment which find no ready place in Kant’s theory of moral worth and obligation. In formulating the necessary conditions of moral worth, Kant gives duty a scope so broad that it leaves no room for supererogatory actions. Against T. Hill, who gives a clear and sophisticated case for the idea that supererogatory acts can be captured within Kant’s notion of wide imperfect duty, it is argued that no reductionist account succeeds in sending the criticism home. First of all, Hill’s suggestion wouldn’t satisfy unqualified supererogationists. Moreover, it is shown that his proposal isn’t one that Kant himself would welcome. This conclusion is illustrated through some texts from the Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, where Kant’s intuitive distrust of “supermeritorious” acts finds a most clear expression in the context of moral education. Although Kant’s critical remarks on moral actions over and above duty are often not without truth, it is argued that they nevertheless don’t suffice to discredite the idea of supererogation in itself.

Carlos Steel
Summary: Evil: a Torture of Philosophy
The experience of evil in all its aspects has always been a challenge for the project of philosophy as a search for meaning. From the beginning philosophers have tried to explain evil, but they could only do so by making this brutal fact somehow intelligible so that it may enter rational discourse. Out of respect of the victims of horrible evil, we may now be inclined to stop all attempts at explanation, which all end up as justifications of evil. But by this refusal to discuss what concerns us humans most, philosophy shows how marginal and futile its intellectual activity is. This is the torture of philosophy: either giving up its own project of making sense or trying to understand evil without justifying it, whereby philosophical arguments always tend to become edifying and quasi-religious.
For Kierkegaard this torture shows the impossibility of the philosophical project. All philosophical explanation of evil is a “a glossing over of sin, an excuse of sin”. Only religion seems to offer meaning for evil, though, as Nietzsche said, it makes suffering worse by bringing it within the perspective of guilt. Philosophers, he argues, should give up this desperate quest for meaning, which always ends with new versions of the ascetic ideal.
There is a long tradition wherein philosophy is seen as a therapy and a consolation for those confronted with suffering. The most influential view was the Neoplatonic, which also incorporated many Stoic arguments. In the second part of this paper, some arguments on evil from that tradition are proposed, without, however, a desire for consolation. We may learn from Neoplatonism ways to discuss evil without making it an intelligible object. As Augustine said, we understand evil by not understanding it, as we may see darkness by not seeing it. Evil is not a being, a property, a function, an attribute. It is a perversion, failure, mistake, that is a non-being parasiting upon a being. In a discussion with Spinoza it is argued that it is not possible to give up altogether a normative concept of reality. The Neoplatonic concept of evil is also linked to the acceptance of contingency in the world. Only when things are not absolutely determined, is impossible to understand that something can go wrong. The notion of accidental causality makes it also possible to understand the tragic aspect of evil. However, this notion becomes problematic when applied to moral evil. It is in its explanation of moral evil that the limitations of the Neoplatonic approach to evil become clear. In particular its basic axiom that all agents act for some good, is questionable.

Allard Tamminga
Summary: Rudolf Carnap’s Logical Behaviourism
In the 1930s, several members of the Vienna Circle set out to incorporate psychology in the unity of science, by showing that all cognitively significant sentences of psychology can be translated into the language of physics. This epistemological analysis of psychology has become known as logical behaviourism. Carnap was the first logical empiricist to expound this programme in considerable detail. Relying on his particular notion of protocol languages, Carnap develops a view on the philosophy of psychology that not only is thoroughly physicalistic, but also shows due appreciation to ‘introspection’ as a purely subjective, but reliable way to verify sentences about one’s own mind. Second, contrary to the received view on logical behaviourism, Carnap’s philosophy of psychology not only takes into account overt behaviour, but micro-physiological processes as well. Last, Carnap’s physicalistic philosophy of mind couples full awareness of the changeability of scientific knowledge with the aspiration to develop a philosophy of psychology that really does justice to this changeability.

André Van de Putte
Summary: The Republican Critique of the Liberal Conception of Liberty
The debate following Berlin’s famous lecture Two Concepts of Liberty circled around the opposition between negative and positive liberty. Berlin delivered his lecture during the period of the Cold War. Therefore it not only provoked a very technical debate within analytic philosophy on the concept of liberty but also contained an important but debatable political message: those who endorse positive liberty should be conscious of the fact that the logic of positive liberty leads, if not necessarily at least easily to despotism, paternalism and even totalitarianism. It is no unimportant question then to ask whether no conception of political society can be developed which, without denying pluralism and negative liberty, would show that virtue and law are part of freedom, that freedom entails the exercise of certain actions without this leading up to the imposition of one conception of the good. In this article there is shown in what sense the republican or neo-roman vision of civil liberty can fulfil this requirement. The analysis of the different components of the republican conception of freedom shows that republicanism distinguishes itself from liberalism not so much by the defence of different institutions but by a different legitimation of them which ultimately has its origin in taking serious the proper finality of political society, in taking serious, as the Ancients did, the political and not only social nature of man.

Evert van der Zweerde
Summary: Vladimir Solovjov’s Living Thinking
The Russian philosopher, poet and religious thinker Vladimir S. Solovyov (1853-1900) is widely regarded as the most important Russian philosopher ever. The objective of this study is to investigate why this title might be justified. In doing so, it offers a general introduction to the life, thought, and works of Solovyov, with a clear accent on his philosophical texts, and attempts to assess his status as a philosopher in the history of philosophy. As is shown, he developed a system of ‘integral knowledge’ on the basis of a wide range of philosophical, religious, and scientific sources. What singles out his endeavour is that he neither subordinates doing to knowing or vice versa, nor either of them to making, but incorporates all three in a philosophy of life that ascribes equal autonomous status to all three while giving pride of place to mystical experience, a form of making next to technical and fine arts, as the ultimate means through which mankind can restore the bond between God and the created world. Influential in many directions, Solovyov has also, almost single-handedly, brought Russian philosophical culture at the same level as that of Europe, thus paving the way for the lively exchange of philosophical ideas in the first decades of the 20th century, after his untimely death.

Rudi Visker
Summary: The Mortality of the Transcendent. Levinas and Evil
Transcendence, Levinas tells us, is not a failed immanence. It presupposes an Exteriority that cannot be integrated into a totality. Such is its excellence: a surplus that rends Being’s monism and allows for a pluralism that is not a “missed union”. In the first sections of this article I show how the ethical relation with the Other is the only one that, for Levinas, satisfies the conditions he thus imposes on a metaphysical — i.e. transcendent — relation. I subsequently link this ‘return’ to Plato’s idea of a ‘Good beyond Being’ to the problem of Evil. If Evil is the refusal of the Good, we should, of course, first understand what it means that, as Levinas contends, the Good has chosen us before we could choose it. Are we to think of this ‘election’ as a command or as an invitation? Concretely: is the appeal of the Other something one cannot not hear, or does it only have the force to disturb those who “retain it”? In other words: should one think of Evil in terms of a choice for irresponsibility which is already situated in the horizon of a responsibility one cannot refuse; or should what in the former case is called Evil, not rather be thought of in terms of a deafness that is sui generis and not the privation of a hearing that ought to be there? Could there not be an irresponsibility that is not the refusal of responsibility, and that, instead of being situated within ethics, would rather complicate our way of conceiving the ethical relation? In the last section I oppose to Levinas’s way of conceiving the relation between transcendence and immanence a different approach: the Good is inevitably incarnated and thus pluralized to a point where it becomes difficult to still present it as the Good. Incarnating the transcendent is not merely wrapping it in a context which leaves it unaltered. The incarnans is not just the envelope for the incarnatum. It is its “originary supplement” (Derrida). But then, inevitably, the relation between ‘the’ Good and ‘Being’ becomes anti-platonic: transcendence becomes mortal and fragile. It can bleed! It is in terms of such bleeding that we ought to look at some of the conflicts that trouble our societies — multiculturalism being one example amongst others.