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Ovi Symposium; Sixtieth Meeting Ovi Symposium; Sixtieth Meeting
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-09-13 13:59:14
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi and Paparella
Sixtieth Meeting: 10 September 2015

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

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Subtheme of session 60: “The Hermeneutics of the Self; is the Self a subjective apprehension of consciousness or an objective apprehension of the intelligible world?"

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Vico, Dante, Gadamer, Marx, Descartes, Berdyaev,Plato, Popper, Leibniz, Kant, Nietzsche, Gentile, Labriola, De Sanctis, Mach, Avenarius, Poincarè, Herbart, Shelling, Carducci, Machiavelli, D’Annunzio, Picasso, Rodin, Socrates.

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Table of Contents for the 58st Session of the Ovi Symposium (10 September 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “An Invitation to the Hermeneutics of the Self”  A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “The Struggle against Rationalism and Irrationalism” A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

Section 3: “The Illusion of the Self and Society“ A presentation by Nikos Laios

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

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In this 60th meeting of the Ovi Symposium we explore the hermeneutics of the Self and simply ask ourselves the question: what exactly is the Self? It is a subjective apprehension rooted in human consciousness or an objective apprehension of the intelligible world? Or is it both and; a synthesis of the two? To even begin to explore this philosophical conundrum Paparella and Paolozzi begin with the assumption of the philosophies of Giambattista Vico and Benedetto Croce who re-proposed the ancient Socratic question of self-knowledge and alerted to the dangers that Western Culture would encounter by adhering to a mere Cartesian rationalism rooted in the dualism of body and mind. That way lies dehumanization when ultimately man begins to think of himself as a mere material machine with the brain as the command center substituting for the mind. With Laios’ third presentation we then come full circle to Socrates’ famous dictum that to even begin the journey into the self one has to first acknowledge that one knows nothing to begin with, that is to say, begin with an attitude of utter existential honesty toward one’s self. These three essays constitute a fascinating explorations of the mystery that is the self that are sure to stimulate further dialogue and discussion on the matter. The journey into the self goes on.

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1
An Invitation to the Hermeneutics of the Self

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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Vico’s New Science has often been identified as “a science of humanity.” As such it leads its readers to an exploration of what it means to be human, that is to say, to a journey into the self. Vico considered self-knowledge essential for the road to wisdom, even more so than knowledge of mathematics, metaphysics, and natural science. He conceived of wisdom in classical terms, as the summation of an authentic holistic life, able to harmonize the material, the intellectual and the spiritual components of one’s humanity. A life, in other words, that is neither one of mere Dionysian excess nor one of mere Apollonian clarity; one that while accepting and integrating man’s imaginative and rational spheres, remains at all times capable of transcending both; hence the importance of his concept of providence able to encompass both the immanent and the historical and the transcendent.

A Vichian intellectual journey requires, at a minimum, a willingness to dialogue with Vico and then among ourselves. What makes the dialogue possible is the common humanity we share and we bring to the conversation. As a guide of sort into Vico’s complex  thought one needs to be the first one to bring one’s own humanity and life experiences to the hermeneutical process which a Vico reading inevitably engenders.

You may ask, how did you personally come to this hermeneutical process? During graduate studies at various institutions of higher learning (New York University, Middlebury College, The University of Perugia, Yale University), I of course came in contact with various theories of literature. A new one seems to appear on the academic scene every five or six years. It has even been suggested that “theory” stands for “politics” in reified academic circles. Be that as it may, a theory of which I am particularly fond is that of Hermeneutics: a theory of interpretation largely developed within modernity by the German philosopher Hans Jorge Gadamer, claiming that in the reading of literature the reader’s own self-understanding necessarily comes into play. In other words, either a particular text addresses me, the reader, as a person, or there is no encounter with it. Far from being mere conceptual knowledge, literature is, properly speaking, life experience.

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A literature which is incapable of relating to me standing in the present with an historical horizon, is dead. I may of course play academic games of literary pathology with it, dissect the cadaver and maybe even re-construct it again; but those games will not bring the text to life; it will remain dead. On the other hand, if a text is capable of producing a dynamic personal meaning, the reader’s self-knowledge will inevitably be enhanced. With self-knowledge acquired via history understood as a narration of man’s journey, (in Italian the word for history and story are one and the same) one may more confidently project a future. Such was my own personal experience, a sort of epiphany, when I first read Vico’s Scienza Nuova several decades ago

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Immigrating Arts by Thanos Kalamidas:
“Where then are we going? Always to our home”

There is much more to this theory, but what I initially wish to convey through this schematic rendition is this: meaning and meaningfulness are contextual in nature. The interpretation of any of man’s artifacts, especially linguistic artifacts, always stands in the situation in which the interpreter himself stands. Meaning is immanent within the very texture of life and is a perception with a nexus which is priori to the subject/object separation in thought. In the absence of a dialogue with literary texts, much of what passes for literary humanistic studies in our academies ends up assuming a dehumanizing mode. By objectifying the work of literature one fails to bring one’s own humanity to the conversation and the hermeneutical circle cannot be closed. Literature remains dead and is conceived as mere conceptual knowledge useful to make a living from, and to build an academic career.

Objective knowledge needs to be brought back to the sphere of life and human experience from which it originally sprung. Had Dante wished to write his Commedia for the exclusive monopoly of scholars and university professors, he would in the first place have written it in Latin, which he was perfectly capable of doing. Similarly, Vico did not write his New Science for the mere furtherance of his academic career at the University of Naples (where indeed he remained largely unappreciated and an assistant professor all his academic life), but rather “per insegnar il volgo a virtuosamente operare,” i.e., “to teach ordinary people how to live well.”

As we proceed on our journey, we shall endeavor to explain how this ethical mission is at the core of the New Science, deeply interested in human origins and identity. Like the ancients of antiquity, Vico insists that without self-knowledge there is no acquisition of wisdom. His was the question of the ancients re-discovered by the high medieval and Renaissance humanists: what does it mean to be human; how does one live humanly? And this existential question is addressed to each one of us and needs to be answered by each of us, for the unexamined life is not worth living.

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Vico, as the ultimate Italian Humanist, endeavors to answer those ethical questions. From my own standpoint in space and time, and given the predicaments of our technological rationalistic civilization which threatens to swallow up our freedom and our very humanity, I remain as convinced as I was forty years ago that Vico’s concerns are more relevant and urgent than ever.

It is indeed crucial that the average non-academic layman who is well informed on the cultural currents and cross-currents of our time, become better acquainted with Vico’s speculation. To that end it is better to eschew a too cumbersome academic form replete with technical jargon, footnotes and bibliographical overkill, while adopting a simple colloquial style. This is not an apology for superficiality. On the contrary, Vico resists oversimplification. He needs to be pondered and taken in slowly. He is indeed a hard nut to crack but once cracked the rewards are plentiful; a personal epiphany of sort may ensue as it did for me.

Initially Vico’s readers should begin keep in mind four essential things: 1) to imaginatively supply their own erudition wherever the narrator or interlocutor falls short, as we journey and explore with Vico various interrelated disciplines and fields of study; 2) some initial forbearance with what may remain obscure 3) an initial open mind which reserves the final judgment for the end of the journey; 4) to bring their own humanity to the historical horizon, for as Vico will reveal to any serious reader, man is his own history. If we venture on this journey across disciplinary boundaries the results may indeed astonish us; for it is at the edge of boundaries that life and knowledge meet most fruitfully.

II

Vico’s most important hermeneutical insight is that human beings cannot be explained objectively, they can only be “understood.” The element of freedom in human nature resists the reduction to object of observation. Indeed, understanding is radically different from explaining. I can only understand and empathize with the personal life of another only because I have the same personal structure of being. Since I have a responsible relation to the meaning of my existence (i.e., to its logos), I am able to understand others in a similar relation. I can be affected by the boredom and emptiness, the failure or success of others and can understand that other beings are also called, like myself, to grasp their own destiny (in theological language, their salvation) with the same fear and risk of failure, the same hope of success.

This solidarity is underpinned by the same life-agenda, the same human journey from cradle to tomb. Moreover, the ability to understand rests on a relationship or analogy between those who understand and those who are understood. In more literary terms, this idea of congeniality is the psychological superstructure of the basic Vichian literary, anthropological insight that readers and/or commentators are in solidarity with an author. Simply put, this is the solidarity of a common humanity. Both reader and author are bearers of personal life and marked by the gift and fear of freedom.

The most basic Vichian principle that we can derive from this hermeneutics is that people, being intrinsically free, cannot be explained, they can only be understood. In turn this means that in practice I first need to understand myself if I am to understand others. How can I possibly speak seriously about the guilt of others if I loath to face my own? So the question becomes: how do I get to know myself? As per the above outlined Vichian hermeneutical principle, self-knowledge cannot be reached by mere self-analysis focusing obsessively and narcissistically on my self (as much self-help and confessional literature would suggest), rather I will begin to discover it in as much as I get to know the world in me and myself in the world.

Sadly, the me-generation of the seventies and eighties and beyond, so concerned with its “life-style,” has yet to discover that Christianity is psychologically much more sophisticated in its insistence that paradoxically one finds oneself when one loses oneself, and that narcissism inevitably leads to selfish egotism. As I encounter others, they become mirrors for me in which I may more clearly see myself. Medieval and Renaissance Man had no problem understanding that we know ourselves only in humanity, and life teaches us what that is. Action is needed to affect the world and in turn let the world affect us. In other words, we can never know ourselves directly by contemplating our navel in a lotus position. The process of self-knowledge begins with a detour, via and encounter with history. The basic reason for this detour is that we are never “objects” of knowledge, not even of self-knowledge.

Only free beings can understand other free beings. We understand ourselves only in as much as we attempt to understand others. Which is to say, the world is a macrocosmic reflection of me and I am a microcosmic reflection of the world; the inner and the outer are analogous. I receive self-awareness by encounter with the world. This is particularly true of the world of history which as the human sphere is my direct analogue. Even more simply expressed, my life-history reflects the history of human-kind. Only thus can the Bible or others’ autobiographies have anything to say to me personally. Vico for one wrote his autobiography with such an hermeneutical principle in mind.

It should be stressed here that this Vichian understanding of one’s humanity as grounded in historical reality is very important in the writing of a human history, i.e., in the writing of what Man has achieved in the world, be it the history of science, or of art, or of law, or of any other cultural artifact. In other words, when an author writes such a history he has to keep in mind that in relation to history Man cannot document himself as a mere object. As an historical being I am constantly included in my understanding of history.

We experience ourselves only by the detour of encounter with history, but the opposite is also true: we experience history only by the detour of self-understanding. That is the Vichian hermeneutical circle. As Vico himself aptly puts it: while it is true that Man makes history, it is also true that history makes Man. The way I see myself is influenced by the course of history. Such a course may produce a Hegel with the vision of Man as a spiritual being, or a Marx with the vision of Man as constituted by economics. These pre-judgments are practically inevitable for they are directed by Man’s understanding of himself.

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The understanding of history can never be “presuppositionless.” When the historian claims that he has broken free from the presuppositions of his self-awareness, he is no longer viewing human history but a degenerated form of pseudo-nature. Only as a bearer of freedom can the historian understand history as the sphere of freedom. But that freedom ought not be understood as an abstract kind of “choice.” “Pro choice” by itself is a meaningless statement, for choice always implies commitment to something. Choice without responsibility and commitment transforms freedom into license. Confusion about this important distinction abounds in so called free democratic societies, but calling ourselves free ought to mean an ability to pursue a goal, to actualize ourselves by grasping our destiny as humans, for in the final analysis, what we know or don’t know of our nature and the goals of such a nature inevitably affects the way we view and interpret other people and even history as a whole.

As an historical being the author of a human history has to bring himself to the understanding of history. Many scientists find this kind of Vichian hermeneutics uncongenial. They shun it since their pride and joy is Cartesian rationalism in tandem with a condescending attitude toward what is alleged to be a “retrograde and primitive” mytho-poetic mentality steeped in magic (usually understood as mere superstition) and religion. They have no use for authors such as Nikolai Berdyaev who always keep in mind the non-objectifiable element of freedom in history and present myth as a deeper reconstruction of life; for indeed myth grasps a dimension of human life that is simply inaccessible to an objective scientific study.

An exclusively objective kind of history is inconceivable, for there will always be a need for mystification, a longing for worlds beyond that secretively direct things. That longing derives from the fact that the subjects are included in the history they seek to know and, unless they are mere robots with no feelings and emotions, they are bound to feel and disclose the historical in themselves. Berdyaev for one points out that penetrating the depths of the ages means to penetrate the depths of the self.

As Vico has well taught us, history presents itself from within by recollection of the origin, goal and meaning of our existence. He was the very first philosopher in the West to understand, way ahead of Cassirer, that myth forms an element in all historical interpretation, and that it a nefarious intellectual habit to pose the dichotomy of poetic myth and “objective” history. It is that false dichotomy that renders many modern history textbooks distasteful to most young students. They have intuited that those texts which present themselves as “scientific” fail to grasp the understanding subjects share non-objectively in historical understanding; that the author and the students of history too are integral part of history; that behind the illusion of complete unbiased documentation there is a human being who is also concerned at some level with actualizing meaning of some kind. The mere writing of a history text points to it. And meaning relates to the totality of being.

Indeed, in all historical understanding of details a preliminary attempt is made to grasp the whole of history and its meaning. Willy nilly, these subjects who choose what they deem important out of the millennial vortex of history, are involved in an “act of faith” which cannot be objectively explained as is the case in science. There is a bottom rock “act of faith” even on the part of science when it believes in the ability of reason to discover truth; that cannot be proven scientifically. For the moment we can confidently assert that since Vico’s speculation on history the investigation of human existence and its history in the sense of objective science is no longer feasible and that moreover human existence as a whole is subject to the Vichian hermeneutical law of understanding. In other words, from Vico on human existence has to be disclosed by way of understanding rather than by way of explanation. It is here that historicism touches the circle of science. Science, on the other hand, in touching the circle of history has to grasp that we can understand humanity and its history only in a venture. Individually, this courage for venturing on a journey of self-knowledge and actualization of meaning can be drawn from the basic realization that the secret of humanity is also our own secret.

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2
The Struggle against Rationalism and Irrationalism
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi
(From his book Benedetto Croce: the Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom: ch. 1)

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Benedetto Croce

 A good method to understand a philosopher, as Croce suggests, is to ask with whom he engaged in polemics and what problems he attempted to solve. In other words, he must be historicized, understood in the concrete existence of a man steeped in life, in the history of his times. There are those who will say that in so doing one invites relativism and, consequently, skepticism. To be sure, this is a risk that one must take. But to do the opposite would entail deducing from the living work of an author a series of dead and abstract formulas, to be fitted into a mosaic with other abstruse and incomprehensible theories that would make up a history of philosophy that to many students (but also to many scholars who do not dare admit it) seems a series of oddities from Plato’s Hyper Uranium to Popper’s third world, from Leibniz’s monads to Kant’s transcendentalism, and so on. The interpreter’s difficulties consist in comprehending what is universal in the particular, that is, what is still living, interesting for us in the work of the philosopher we want to understand.

To historicize Croce, in our case, means reconstructing his problems and his reasons by trying to catch those aspects of his thought that can lead us in the right direction by confronting our problems, and in strengthening our reasons. This means making Croce our contemporary, freeing him from the antiquarian history of Nietzschean memory in which we have tried, in the last few years (after a long period of harsh and prejudiced polemic) to imprison him. At the end of the last century, what were then the important questions and notions that Croce was dealing with, as his thinking matured and consolidated? The main adversary was certainly positivism against which the young philosopher, born in 1866, led a hard-fought battle in line, to be sure, with the emerging, contemporary European philosophy. It was a question of defeating the scientific myth that dominated European culture and that in Italy had acquired pathological dimensions, entrenched in the ancient roots of empty rhetoric typical of a degenerate humanistic tradition.

The young philosopher intuited the danger inherent in a “mentality” bent in extending the method of the sciences to every field of knowledge, from literary criticism to historiography, from pure philosophy to politics. A method, moreover, not understood completely in its complexity. Croce made fun of the Italian intellectual who disguised the old, obstinate pedantry in scientific language. A flaw which we have not entirely eliminated when we think that after fifty years the phenomenon is repeated under the false pretenses of complex scientific analyses, such as those of semiology and semiotics, that have brought back into favor the old formulas of rhetoricians and scholars, logician and grammarians. Therefore, it was a question of freeing Italian culture from its “naturalistic and materialistic prison, allowing it to breath once again, and making it possible for scholars and for original and creative artists to shake off the yoke of academics who found in their positivist formulas the weapons to defend their lack of power. It was a difficult battle, never concluded, that reached the climax with the program of La Critica, the journal Croce founded with Giovanni Gentile, the manifest of a tiny group of scholars that slowly asserted itself first within Italian culture, and later in the world.

From the early erudite studies of his youth, Croce moved on to works of a more philosophical nature such as the essay “La storia ridotta sotto il concetto generale dell’arte” [History reduced under the general concept of art] (1893) (initially written in a positivistic vein but quickly revised during printing) whose title already makes known the author’s intentions, and “La critica letteraria e le sue condizioni in Italia” [Literary Criticism and its conditions in Italy](1895), an analysis of the state of critical studies of the period, and a first reference to the authentic nature of art. In fact, as Croce himself noted in his most authoritative autobiography, An Autobiography [Contributo alla critica di me stesso], written in 1915, his studies on the philosophy of art were instrumental in the development of his philosophy. But it was only the arduous effort, as I have said, that my Aesthetic cost me, that enabled me to overcome, for myself and by myself, naturalism and Herbartianism that still fettered me. That is, I overcame the logic of naturalism by appeal to the logic of grades of the spirit, or of development, that alone enabled me to grasp the relation between words and thought, imagination and intellect, utility and morality. And I overcame the naturalistic transcendence through the critique that I was irresistibly mounting against literary genres, grammar, the separate arts, and rhetorical styles. This critique enabled me to come to terms with how, into the pure spiritual world of art, ‘nature,’ the product of man’s own spirit, is introduced. And, thus, by denying the reality of nature in art, I began to deny it everywhere, uncovering everywhere its true character, not as reality but as the product of abstracting thought (A 93-94).”

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We shall try to clarify later the terminology of Croce’s complex thought that has created so much confusion. Here it is more useful to recall, as we have already done, the references and the sources which inspired the philosopher as his work was gradually taking shape.  After losing his parents in Casamicciola, in Ischia’s earthquake, he was entrusted to the care of his uncle Silvio Spaventa, from whom he learned to admire, beside its strong moral sense, the Risorgimento’s principles, if not the style, of that historical liberal Right that, in many ways, remains an unsurpassed example of ethico-political strength and firmness, in a not very exciting period of Italian history. But from his other uncle, Bertrando Spaventa, philosopher and renowned scholar, he was separated by the Hegelian orthodoxy of the latter, as well as by that theological attitude with respect to philosophy, that will mark the constant difference between Croce’s historicism and Italian idealism. Croce always insisted in clearing up, sometimes even in an irreverent manner, the confusion that may arise that his Hegelianism was the result of his relation to his uncle. A confusion, unfortunately, not even resolved today when Croce still appears under the label of “Italian idealism”. The only true teacher that he recognized was Antonio Labriola whose lessons the young Croce followed even though he was registered in the Law Faculty, from where, however, he never graduated. It was in part due to the intense relationship with Labriola, Italy’s foremost interpreter of Marxism , and his influence, that Croce abandoned his merely erudite studies for the study of philosophy and ethico-political commitment.

Croce’s major sources are easily traceable, on his own authority, in the youthful reading of De Sanctis, in his “Platonic-Scholastic-Herbartian conception,” and in his studies on economics, partially related to the interpretation of Marx’s thought. This said, it would be superficial to reduce his cultural background to these texts alone. We only need to think of the profound impact that Empirio-criticism exercised on Croce, which was the most advanced style of epistemological thinking of the time, namely. And, then, there is Mach, Avenarius, and for other aspects, Poincaré, whose theories mark the truest, most profound break with the dominant positivist trend. From Herbartism, Croce derives, at least in part, the sense of distinction and the clarity of thought, from De Sanctis the ability to conceive artistic activity in its autonomy (once again the distinction), and from Marxism the determination of Utility as a positive spiritual category. But we should not give in to the temptation to schematize and to pigeon hole, as in some kind of puzzle, the different doctrines and the many lectures that miraculously constituted Croce’s thought. In fact, his thinking is very labored and has its genesis in the spontaneous tendency to always search for the concrete, for whatever is individual and can be grasped in the only reality that we can know and experiment, our life, that is, the history in which we are always immersed and from which we can never emerge definitively, if not with death.

At the origins of Croce’s thought, therefore, there is more De Sanctis than Herbart; there is Marxism but as historicism. From the great critic De Sanctis, and from his relation with the Spaventas and Labriola, Croce goes back to Hegel and Vico, the two authors of his mature years, the great philosophers whose systematic study will contribute to the great works of the Philosophy of Spirit, through which he joins the great philosophical tradition, which he will confront on the great themes of the dialectic, the concept, judgment, philosophical logic, and finally, in his last writings, Vitality. If in these years, the basic problem consists in overcoming the positivist, materialistic, naturalism and democraticism, partially related to positivist culture (we should remember that it was precisely the reading of Marx that cured Croce, as he reminds us, from the abstractions of a certain type of democraticism and socialism), the philosopher soon found himself confronting that “sensualism and decadence,” that was advancing alongside the more general European irrationalism, in which one can trace the warning signs of totalitarian movements that in a few years would devastate the world.

Croce’s position between rationalism and irrationalism, therefore, is original, even in the jagged philosophical panorama of his time. Both anti-positivist and anti-irrationalist, Croce takes part and does not take part in the general anti-positivist movements of the turn of the century. We could compare Croce’s speculative and psychological position with the one assumed by Hegel in The Phenomenology of Mind of 1807 with respect to the great debates of his time: anti-enlightenment but not romantic to the end, and, wholeheartedly, as his young friends. If we think of Croce’s association with Gentile, their common battles against the many positivist scientists for an “idealist rebirth” in Italy, how can their break up (philosophical first, and later political) not remind us of Hegel’s polemic against Schelling’s philosophy as the “night in which all cows are black”? This interpretation can be supported by many facts. From Croce’s gusto that made him prefer the “virile” poet Carducci (whose critical school he held to be inferior to De Sanctis’) to the many fashionable “decadent” poets of his time, to his writing style, impassioned to be sure, complex and tormented, but never obscure or sensual, rhetorical or affected and empty. It would be enough to think of his predecessors -- from Vico, Hegel (and Kant, as we shall see), to Machiavelli, Marx, De Sanctis -- whose originality and creativity consists in that rare ability to be innovators without being eccentric, to be rooted in history without being traditional. But the decisive proof is Croce’s own work, his philosophy.

If we were to trace the thread that runs throughout Croce’s thinking, we would have to identify it with the concept of liberty, as the moral principle and method of interpreting reality. Not only because during and after the experience of Fascism, Croce will outline a truly liberal conception of life, but because his thinking always tends to liberate human activity from any external or naturalistic ties: whether it is a question of the old and recurrent metaphysics of Being, of beginnings, of totality, or the apparently opposed metaphysics of matter as absolute determining factor; or whether it is a question of the naturalistic determinism that tends to bridle man in oppressive scientific laws, or the irrational sensuality that reduces creative liberty to mere psyco-physical sensation. These opposed and different dispositions have in common the objective limitations of individual liberty even when, as in the case of D’Annunzio, it poses as a reckless ideology of libertinism. A false liberty, just as are false many and apparently open-minded externalizations of hidden and recondite sentiments. The strength and originality of Croce’s thought stands in opposition to these various cultural movements of his time, which is only partially dialectical.

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3

The Illusion of the Self and Society
A presentation by Nikos Laios
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At present the concept of the self seems to clearly be defined, and that people are certain of the concept of their own identity. In a culture that celebrates the individual through selfishness built on a narcissistic consumerism and materialism, it would seem that humanity has figured it all out, with our gadgets and pop-up toasters; with our faces buried in the glaring screens of our social media devices connecting with the world to gain some instant gratification in stroking the ego of our own self importance. We cover ourselves in a security blanket of certainty in an uncertain world against a meaningless and existential void.

Though the validity of some of the conclusions of the philosophy of existentialism can be questioned at times, what cannot be questioned is the value of the analytical tools that existentialism has brought to the fore into the examination of our existence, of our choices, and most importantly the further and more profound questions on the meaning of life and the very definition of who we are. Were one in turn to ask the biggest question on the concept of the self; are we certain that we know who we are? Are we certain that what we define as our self is a rigid and true reality? And how does our conception of our self limits and defines our experience of life, the world and the cosmos?

This question not only has a profound repercussion for every human individual on earth, but the challenging of the definition and truth of the self then has the potential to change every society and human civilisation on earth; because the self and society in turn are completely interdependent  - society giving shape and form to define the self -  and the self in turn building communities and civilisations. At the moment we seem to be living in an age of certainty; the commute to work, punching the clock working  9 to 5, the kids, the mortgage, the mowing of the lawns and then this all repeats again. We live in a world of pre-packaged goods lining our supermarket shelves and cable TV; that's the world that our concept of our self is presently living in.

If we look in the mirror at ourselves in the morning as we shave or wash our face, when reflecting on who the self is, we firstly see our physical body yet we don't say that this is our self but feel that our self is actually residing inside the shell of our bodies like some pilot. If we engage someone in a conversation on the self and firstly ask them, 'who are you?', they would answer for example, ' I am John Smith'. At this point we would respond that 'John Smith' is only a name and label that they have given themselves and that they have still not answered our question. We would then ask again, 'who are you?' and he would then respond with, “I am an accountant and I live in Sydney” for example. We would again point out to him here that all he has told us is what he does for an occupation and where he lives, that he still hasn't answered the question of who he is. If we were to ask him one last question, 'who are you?', he might respond that he is an English immigrant who believes in God and whose ancestors come from Surrey in England. Yet here he still has not answered who he is; he has only told us what racial label and identity he has been given, what his beliefs are and who his family is and where geographically they came from. He has still not been able to answer our question of who he is. At this point he - like most people - would be completely perplexed and at a loss for answers and would be hard-pressed to answer who he is because no one consciously challenges anyone on the conception of the self.

Our self is not our ideas, thoughts or beliefs, for these are simply the things we experience in life and not who we are. Without our names, labels, definitions or identifications, all we can say here is that 'I am'. That we are our awareness of our awareness of ourselves - that we exist - that no matter what we think we are; we will always be incorrect for we only ever see a portion of the truth of the whole. Our entire experience of our reality is in our mind, and our mind therefore is our reality. if we reflect on the question of what is 'me', it can be said that it is a network of trillions of experiences and living entities within us. The self seems to be a complex mental neurological map allowing us to function as a whole.

The self slowly emerged shaped out of the tapestry of our human activity, interactions and experiences; a product of the brain which in turn is a product our brain working with other brains. The 'I' and 'me' are simply points of references, hooks to pin our experiences on together of both our present and our past over our lifetime. If our experiences are therefore not woven together in this fashion to form a unified narrative, they would then become separate episodes and fragments without meaning. Only be weaving these episodes of experiences together can the brain calculate the sheer volume of experiences, otherwise it would be overwhelmed. It is our self, the constructed illusion of our self that orchestrates and sets together all of these myriad experiences to give us an abbreviated summary which we continually go back to and reorder and revise.

Our experiences are built on our memories which are constructed as we experience the world around us. We are also guided and shaped by those around us who contribute to this moulding and shaping of our self; for as humans, we are wired for communal and social interaction. This social interaction plays the most important role in constructing the illusion of our self early on in our childhood. If this social interaction is denied early on in childhood, it will socially damages these children and affect their ability to construct their self; as for example in many of the orphanages in the third world countries where these orphans are deprived of the emotional and social interaction through neglect.

The ego is a stumbling block in being able to come to a truer picture of who our self is, where our ego is our own self image, of who we think we are and where it is founded on our past ideas, experiences, memories, and identifications. In order to experience choice and arrive at truths and the real self, we need to be free of our ego if we are ever to be free from the chains of the past, for when one dwells on the past, one will be completely defined by it to the detriment of the unexplored whole. For when the ego is anchored in the past, it then also looks forwards to the future for recognition and then one is fully immersed in the ego, completely missing the reality and truths that exist in our present.

Our brains simulate the world by modelling reality based in the interpretations of perceptual stimuli and memories/preconceived models through societal learning; and we build an internal character to interpret that reality. For example this writer was not born as 'Nikos', but had to develop into 'Nikos' mostly through experience. In believing in the illusion of the self, our self then becomes divided in who we think we are and from everyone around us and who we think they think we are based on their ideals, beliefs, religion, thoughts and culture. This rigid and dogmatic idea of who we think the self is has been an underlying factor in much of the conflict of the world; its wars, genocides and conflicts over ideas and religion. That is not to say that the illusion of the self is a bad thing, but it is only a version of a fragment of the truth, where the unification and integration of the self can help one live a far more richer and infinite experience of the universe and the cosmos.

Yet by succumbing to the ego, we are caught in repeating patterns of the past which are replicated in the future, and its only when we realise the self is an illusion that we find the one true reality is in the present; in the right here and now, and how much of the richness of the present in this magnificent cosmos do we miss out on. How many opportunities do we miss out in being able to destroy the illusion of our self, to expand the horizons of its borders to encompass the whole cosmos and experience it all at once. For once we embrace the nothingness of the now can we connect in a universal consciousness and free ourselves from the constricting bonds and achieve something higher. At present we are on the cusp of the whole world connecting to the World Wide Web on an even larger scale, of the instantaneous communication and sharing of ideas, feelings, information, perceptions and realities that can connect humanity like it never has before in its history. This connectivity potentially can assist each person one day with the destruction of their illusions of the self and an integration of a larger definition of the self that will hopefully make wars, violence, chaos, famine and greed antiquated redundant relics of the past.

If one undertakes a cursory examination of modern human history since the start of the twentieth century, there have been many recorded glimpses of the truth of reality, existence and the self recorded in science, philosophy, the literary and the visual arts. Periods of culture where man briefly peeked behind the curtain of OZ the wizard to glimpse the true nature of things; and where one of art movement in particular characterises this. Where the art movement called Cubism was a response to the machine age of 1880 to 1914, a mosaic, a puzzle, a fragmentation of the form of a recognisable image which only becomes recognisable at the second or third glance. Attempting to solve the visual problem of how to depict three dimensional shapes and objects on a two-dimensional surface. One of this writer's favourite art movements,  with works from artists such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso representative of the movement; a movement which is far more fascinating and valid than real-life figurative art for daring to ask these questions.

The most important aspect of Cubism is its phenomenological response to the world around us. The impression of the physical objects and the world; for our perception of the world is limited  by our perceptual attention devices - sight, sound, smell, touch - the question then begs to be asked: if our perception of the reality of objects and the world is only a partially accurate picture, then what is the reality?

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Cubism attempts a response, visually at least. The questions of the self and existence that follows from this were examined through the moments of Freudian/Jungian psychology of this time, then through existentialism of the 40's and 50's; art, literature, psychology and philosophy movements, all linked, one flowing into another. Presently, neuroscientists, medical doctors, physicists, thinkers, and writers have in turn further pushed the boundaries of this field of research.

Here one has to go back to the maxim of Socrates, that in destroying the illusion of the self to reintegrate a more complete and universal whole, we have to first admit that we know nothing before we can start to know something, and here what Socrates stated then still rings true today.

"Ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα"
 
"I know that I know nothing"

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 END  OF 60th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (10/09/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

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46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting - 49th Meeting - 50th Meeting - 51st Meeting -

52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting - 55th Meeting - 56th Meeting - 57th Meeting -

58th Meeting -59th Meeting - 60th Meeting -

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