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Ovi Symposium; sixty-eighth Meeting Ovi Symposium; sixty-eighth Meeting
by Prof. Ernesto Paolozzi
2016-04-16 20:38:15
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 Ovi Symposium:

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

between Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Ernesto Paolozzi and Emanuel Paparella
Sixty-eighth Meeting: 15 April 2016

symposium01

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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 68: “Did Christianity, as a Foreign Cultural Import, Weaken the Original European Ethos and Hasten the Demise of the Roman Empire? Is it, or is it not integral part of the idea of Europe?"

Direct and indirect Participants within the Great Imaginary Conversation across the ages (direct participants listed in chronological order): Aristotle, Giambattista Vico, Edward Gibbons, Friedrich Nietzsche, Oswald Spangler, Christopher Dawson, Arnold Toynbee, Joseph Campbell. Indirect participants: Chesterton, Belloc, Aquinas, Epicurus, Voltaire, Socrates, Plato, Kant, Machiavelli, Marx, Augustine, Lewis, Habermas, Sartre.

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Table of Contents for the 68th Session of the Ovi Symposium (15 April 2016)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

1. An Imaginary Conversation of the 68th Ovi Symposium between some renowned Western philosophical cultural historians and mythologists of the last 2400 years (names in alphabetical order): Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.), Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), Christopher Dawson (1889-1970), Edward Gibbons (1737-1794), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Oswald Spangler (1880-1936), Arnold Toynbee (1889- 1975), Giambattista Vico (1668-1744).

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella
(Ovi Symposium 68: April 2016)

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As we have repeatedly asserted in the Ovi Symposium, Western philosophy can be characterized as an overarching Great Dialogue or a Great Conversation which begins with the ancient Greeks some six hundred years before Christ and remains ongoing, challenging and exciting. In ancient Greece the symposium, which is also the title of one of Plato’s great philosophical dialogues, was a gathering of friends to discuss a philosophical issue; basically a party enlivened by good wine: the fruit of the grapes coupled with the fruit of metaphysics; an ideal harmonious combination of the physical world, or the material phenomenon and the intelligible world of the mind and the spirit combined. It assumes two things: that one is more likely to get to the truth via the Socratic method of question and answer, and that the road to it via a friendly rational conversation turns out to be more pleasant and fruitful than a dry abstract logical monologue written in the mode of a learned essay.

The risk of course is that a dialogue can at times turn into a diatribe replete with attacks and insults parading as a debate (the so called fallacious argumentum at hominem), or that the party could turn into an all night epicurean orgy, but it was nevertheless felt that those were risks worth taking. The Epicureans did, after all, make a distinction between physical and intellectual pleasures. The latter were considered far superior to mere material pleasures.

The conversation could go on all night into the wee hours of the morning. Socrates himself would quite often participate in those symposia, although he would abstain from its more purely physical and corrupting elements and would return home to his family, alone. I have always found such a lonely figure as quite poignant and suggestive scene explaining to beginner philosophy students the origins of Western philosophy culminating in the tragic trial and sentencing of Socrates.

As some of the readers may already know, we have tried in the past to imagine some of those conversations across time and space among philosophical geniuses such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Vico. They can easily be retrieved via the Ovi search engine. One may object that those conversations are improbable if not impossible since they go beyond the natural boundaries of space and time; but the operative word here is “imaginary,” i.e., nurtured by both reason and imagination. We need to envision that those philosophers have come together for a night of discussion of philosophical issue that remain perennial in as much as they deal with the mystery and riddle of existence and what it means to be human, the nature of friendship and justice, the vexing problems of knowledge, governance and conduct, just to mention some of the issues.

The glue that will hold a symposium session together is the search for truth beyond the sophistic winning of arguments and debates. In our case it has had an aesthetic dimension right from the outset. It is an attempt to envision a new humanism; a topic which I dare say, remains relevant even today, when it is possible to transmit a whole symposium instantaneously via e-mail, or TV, or internet, or satellite. The problems these symposia tackle remain important and fascinating given that human nature has not changed very much since Homer and Socrates and indeed the unexamined life remains  not worth living for us humans. Even on TV or on the internet, in the era of instant communication via smart phones, the conversation may result interesting and attractive or, on the other hand, it may result boring and  superficial; it all depends on who presents it or moderates it. Imagine, if you will, a conversation between a Donald Trump and Ted Cruz moderated by a Sarah Pelin on the nature of beauty or of justice; tweeting in 150 characters may turn out to be more preferable for such types; I suspect it would be a wholly different conversation between a Nietzsche and a Plato. Some may find the former mode more interesting and entertaining, resembling a surreal reality-show, but, perhaps the latter remains more attractive for most philosophically inclined intelligent persons who do not wish to remain on the superficial surface of things but wish to seriously tackle first things.

Keeping the above preamble well in mind, we will repeat the format of the imaginary philosophical conversation among great minds as previously attempted in Ovi and as enthusiastically approved at the time by its editors, however, this time around we’ll insert it within the ongoing dialogues of the Ovi Symposium. What we are attempting, in a  virtual mode, is to invite to the monthly Ovi symposium party (the 68th Symposium), eight prominent philosophers of Western Civilization; all renowned experts in the philosophy of history and mythology and the importance of religion, as distinguished from mere myth, to understand and correctly assess any culture and civilization via a grand narrative. All of them have accepted the invitation in as much as philosophers are always ready and willing to discuss any issue and do so amicably. The readers too must use his/her imagination. The meeting’s proper setting shall imaginatively be Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens, a city which can perhaps be considered the first European democratic city to fully appreciate and practice free speech, despite the disaster of Socrates’ trial.

The span of time is 23 centuries, chronologically going from Aristotle (who is the appointed moderator of the conversation to prevent it from going rogue and end as a non productive diatribe); as is well known, he was Alexander the Great’s tutor, author of the Nicomachean Ethics and innumerable other books in the fourth century B.C., and proceeds all the way to the American mythologist Joseph Campbell in the second half of the 20th century A.D. (of The Hero with a Thousand Faces fame), gong through the Italian philosopher of history and civilizations Vico (of New Science fame) in the 18th century, to the history of Medieval Christendom and its relevance for European civilization of Christopher Dawson (of The Making of Europe fame) in the 20th century, to Edward Gibbons (of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame) in the 18th century, to the German philosopher Nietzsche (of Beyond Good and Evil and The Geneology of Morals fame) in the 19th century, to the German scholar Oswald Spangler (of The Decline of the West fame) and the British philosopher of history and civilizations Arnold Toynbee, in the first half of the 20th century. In this kind of dialogue time and space become somewhat irrelevant, but come to think of it, isn’t philosophy exactly that: a great conversation across time and space and often transcending both?

 

Pictures of Symposium’s Direct Participants (in historical order)

We will endeavor to present their scholarly philosophical musings without distortions. When quotation marks are used, they will encapsulate exact quotes from the philosophers in question themselves. The unifying thread in the conversation will be constituted by its stated subtheme: the thorny question as to whether or not Christianity has over millennia enriched or weakened the original European culture; an issue which has been resurrected again in all its virulence as the issue of multi-culturalism; it now engages many scholars in the West, particularly in the EU; it also engages politicians and those who would denigrate religion in general and Christianity in particular. It remains an extremely important issue for a EU at the crossroads in search of its cultural identity and its ultimate political destiny and whether or not religion is important for such a search. Humanism and the Renaissance will never be understood if one thinks of them as an imitation of classical Greco-Roman culture devoid of any Christian influence. They are in fact a synthesis of the two.

The views of these eight divergent philosophers vary greatly, as they must, as per their philosophies, but the challenge for our symposium’s overall project will be to endeavor to present their philosophy objectively without distortions and biases, so that the great friendly civil conversation, engaged in the interests of all that is true, good and beautiful, may continue to flourish unabated. What a symposium can accomplish is the further clarification of those philosophies and perhaps give a hint at possible solutions to the issue. Free speech, after all is not an end to be sought for its own intrinsic worth but a means to the search for truth, even when where the truth leads to personally inconvenient conclusions or places stress on friendship, as it happens occasionally.

Once again we continue to encourage the Ovi readership to become participants  in some fashion. The best way, in the present circumstances, is via the comment section placed under this visionary imaginative dialogue across time and space.

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Ovi Symposium 68 as an Imaginary Philosophical Convention

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Aristotle (moderator): Good evening all, and welcome to this symposium at the Lyceum. Please, make yourselves comfortable. As the wine is passed around I’d like to announce the theme of this event and then introduce the panel of distinguished participants; some of them I have had the privilege of meeting for the first time tonight. I must confess that I am highly impressed by their eloquence and sheer brilliance, their qualifications and expertise. Indeed, all of them are experts in the philosophy of history, mythology, and cultural anthropology and have written numerous celebrated books on the subject. Were I to list them all we’d have no time to do anything else. So I will limit myself to mentioning the book(s) that I believe they are best known for and remain germane to the concerns we’ll be discussing tonight.

In the first place I want to thank them all for the great honor they have conferred on me by selecting me as the senior philosopher of Western culture to moderate the conversation. This act validates for me Aquinas’ choice of my philosophy as the scaffolding of his own philosophy. I wish to pay tribute to his memory here, for he was a true philosopher.

As moderator I wish to assure you that I will do my very best to guarantee that the conversation remains civil and enlightening at all times and does not degenerate to ad hominem attacks resembling political propaganda or ethnic chauvinism unworthy of a genuine symposium, or, even worse, an inadequate diatribe, high in emotional passion and low in reasoning power; that would be wholly inadequate for the high philosophical subject we have gathered here to discuss.

Allow me also to take a moment to remember here our sovereign Alexander, a man that history has proclaimed “great” and who from the outset has supported and encouraged the idea of a symposium on the idea of the West at the Lyceum in Athens in the interests of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, the amalgamation of Western and Eastern cultural sensibilities, as he amalgamated Hellenic and Persian customs, may in the future prove indispensable to a union and an idea whose center presently does not seem to hold. Be that as it may, while it is true that I happen to be king Alexander’s  tutor, I am also his fellow Greek-Macedonian citizen from Stagira and quite proud of that fact.

Let us now proceed to the introduction of the theme of this symposium which ultimately has to do with the cultural identity of present day Europe, or more generally speaking, the West as is known since the Hellenic wars against Persia. We ancient Greeks had much to do in forging such a Western identity or what some call the idea of Europe; in fact one cannot speak of European identity without a thorough knowledge of the Hellenic worldview. That knowledge remains essential but neither can we forget that Christianity has been around for two thousand years in Europe and we ought at least to entertain and explore the notion that it may have had something to do with the enrichment of its cultural, political, and even political  development and its global influence.

As we speak, there is in play in the West a conundrum called post-modern times which consider themselves “enlightened” and in some way superior to the ancient Greco-Roman civilization. The conundrum expressed by post-modernity is this: in what way did the advent of Christianity in Europe and its widespread adoption by emperor Constantine in the third century A.D. became the very core of Western identity? Was it a stroke of genius on the part of Constantine, or was it rather a great blunder to allow a foreign cultural import: the god of the Hebrews Jehovah to compete with the Greek Zeus, or perhaps the Germanic Odin, or the Viking Thor? Which is to say, is it all a mythology or a cult that eventually will transform itself into a myth, useful for literature and culture in general but ultimately a lie with which post-modern “enlightened” positivistic man can easily dispense with? I’d like Mr. Campbell, as a recognized modern authority on myth and its significance, to be the first to speak at this symposium by giving it its first spark, so to speak, by addressing this conundrum and giving it directions or an initial orientation or framework within which to operate.

However, before proceeding with the symposium I’d like to briefly introduce the eight invited participants, including myself. You will find me usually placed alongside my good friend and colleague Plato in depictions of the School of Athens (by the painter Raphael) and other such artistic intellectual schemas and in history of philosophy manuals. I am also a biologist and a naturalist, something that many do not seem to know. I have written various philosophical books on ethics, theodicy, logic, politics, aesthetics and have first mapped out the ancient rational philosophical paradigm of the Western World. I’ll stop there on myself.

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Raphael’s School of Athens with Plato and Aristotle in the center

[Enthusiastic applause can be heard in the background]. Thank you for your enthusiastic support and participation. And now let us please proceed to the introduction of our other eminent participants. I will mention them in chronological historical order.

Professor Giambattista Vico is a Neapolitan academic who taught philosophy in Naples. His master work is titled The New Science. He proposes a theory of civilization which is both cyclical and progressive but not deterministic (the era of the gods, the era of the heroes, and the era of men), a sort of spiral moving forward; the first two cycles or eras emphasizing the poetical and the imaginative in human nature, the second a sort of blend of the first and last, and the third the rational abstract philosophical-scientific (positivistic) aspect. As you know, I assert in my works on ethics that “virtue resides in the middle” and therefore you can well surmise where my sympathies lie. In any case, what is most relevant for our purposes today is that Vico insists that phenomena such as language (the carrier of symbolism and the poetical), the family (the institution of marriage), and religion (the burial of the dead) are essential for identifying the core of even the most primitive of civilizations and the origins of man’s humanity. He does not consider those institutions myths but historical events which can be retrieved since man makes history but it is equally true that history makes man and man can fully know what he himself has made, not so with what God has made; history is in fact integral part of what it means to be human. We’ll need to wrap our mind around this historical concept before proceeding with our complex theme. It is basically the theme of myth and history. Are they complementary or are they mutually exclusive? As you know, we ancients did not have much sympathy for history which we considered messy and not very precise and privileged the logical characteristics of abstract thought. I’ll surely be learning much myself from this symposium.

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Frontispiece to Vico’s New Science:
Providence, Homer and Philosophy (on a pedestal) can be identified.
In the background as well as an altar identifying religion;
in the foreground the invention of language and writingand the institution of marriage,
the family, can also be identified

Dr. Edward Gibbons is a cultural anthropologist and historian of civilizations, ailing from England, where he was a Parlamentarian in the 18th century, and is considered the first modern historian of ancient Rome. His fame rests on a book titled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which covers a span of time going from Rome’s inception all the way to fall of Byzantium to the Turks and an analysis of the Catholic Church in Europe from 98 AD to 1590. His opus claims that the Empire was destroyed from the inside by Christianity with the conversion of the Barbarians which hampered the traditional Roman martial spirit. From then on European culture regressed, and we need to wait for 18th century Enlightenment for progress to finally resume. I think it is fair to say that Voltaire was a great influence on him (via the Manichaeism of Candide).

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Professor Friedrich Nietzsche is a 19th century well known philosopher and classicist who is also a philologist, a cultural anthropologist, an aesthetician and a student of civilizations. He too is very interested in the analysis of the original classical Greco-Roman European culture and identity vis a vis Christianity in Europe. The analysis is most apparent in his book on ethics The Genealogy of Morals as well as the ones titled Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra wherein the concepts of master/slave morality, nihilism, will to power, the Ubermensch, eternal recurrence, aesthetic health, are examined and elucidated. He too examines the Judeo-Christian tradition of Europe to determine whether or not Christianity has proven inimical to the original pagan values of Europe and contributed to the enfeebling of the naturalistic vitalistic impulses for life present in European values. Even today the answers to those inquiries continue to cause consternation and debates galore and have not been satisfactorily addressed. But I’ll let my modern colleagues attempt a clarification on these issues. We’re sure to witness a passionate interesting debate between Nietzsche’s views and Dawson’s views, the other side of this coin, whom I presently introduce.

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Professor Christopher Dawson is widely regarded as the greatest of the Catholic historians of the 20th century. From 1958 till 1962 he held the chair of Roman Catholic Studies at Harvard University, the most prestigious university in the USA. There are many such chairs and whole divinity schools at many other Western academic institutions world-wide; they testify to the importance of religious studies to understand anything at all about the nature of Western Civilization. I myself have written extensively on natural theology. Dawson’s life-long scholarship is dedicated to the proposition that Christianity in general and the medieval Catholic Church in particular remain essential factors to be thoroughly studied and analyzed in assessing the rise of Western European civilization, never mind its past or future fall or demise. His book The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the Study of European Unity, remains a signal contribution to the understanding of the European cultural identity.

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Professor Oswald Spangler is a cultural anthropologist of the first half of the 20th century who was also an historian of civilizations. His best known books are titled The Decline of the West and The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. Not unlike Vico, he believes that civilizations have a predictable span of life and that there are symptoms by which their demise can be predicted….

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Professor Arnold Toynbee is also an historian of civilizations. His best known work is titled A Study of History where he examines 26 civilizations. In mid 20th century he begins to argue that the Cold War was nothing short than a religious competition of Marxist materialism competing as a heresy of Christianity’s heritage of spirituality but unfortunately the West was already on its headlong plunge to reject Christianity and adopt an extreme form of secularity ostracizing religion from the public agora and severing science from religion. Surely a controversial thesis where Toynbee seems to be treating Communism as a spiritual force of sorts competing with religion as the spiritual glue that would ultimately unite the West, just as Christianity had formerly been seen as the solution to the fragmentation of the Germanic kingdoms and had provided a sense of unity to the whole of Europe. In his work Toynbee seems to be saying that societies either overcome a pending crisis or challenge, or commit suicide; that is to say, their survival or demise is a spiritual process. Surely this idea too will be challenged in our symposium tonight, but I dare say that even Marx would accept it in part.

Professor Joseph Campbell is an American Comparative mythologist who has delved brilliantly into the relationship of myth to religion. He contends that all mythic narratives are nothing but variations of a single great story which he calls “the hero’s journey whose inspiration he derived from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and Jung’s structures of the human psyche and the collective unconscious. He believes that beneath the natural phenomena there is an eternal transcendent source and that the metaphors found in myths go beyond even words and rationality itself; they point beyond themselves to the transcendent. The conundrum to be discussed seems to be this: is Christ just another mythological hero or demigod who experiences the eternal source? Is God himself a metaphor? Is Genesis a metaphor with no basis in science or history? If God transcends all human categories of thought, is calling Him a metaphor equivalent to categorizing Him? Is Being and non-Being themselves categories insufficient to represent the living God?

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As you will surely have noticed, gentlemen, in presenting these luminaries I have endeavored to furnish an outline, a preliminary idea of their thought which surely will become more transparent as the symposium proceeds and as they get explained by their respective authors. Ideas have a tendency to get clarifies as they are discussed. You may also have noticed that these eight philosophers can be divided in two groups: some of them like myself, Vico, Dawson, Toynbee have generally a favorable attitude toward religion and Christianity in particular and place it within a historical narrative or framework, while the other four, Gibbons, Nietzsche, Spangler and Campbell have a less favorable or at least neutral view of religion and Christianity in particular, relegating it to the mythological. And now, let us begin with Professor Campbell. Please.

Joseph Campbell: Good evening all. Thank you Aristotle for the invitation to set out the preliminary framework within which we can freely carry on our discussion on myth and religion. The overarching paradigm of mythology, at least as I see it, is essential to narrate the development of any civilization. In my The Hero with a Thousand Faces I propose that all myths at any place and any time are variations of a single great story or grand narrative. The grand narrative is that of the hero on a journey. Homer’s Ulysses and Dante’s Divine Comedy are two such journeys. That explains their perennial popularity. Jung too discovered that while the cultural settings may vary, myths with a common theme and message appear all over the globe and at any time, even where there has been no interaction between civilizations or cultures. He called them archetypes of the human psyche. They function also as archetypes of the human imagination. He called the phenomenon “the collective unconscious.” James Joyce calls it “the Monomyth” to wit his Finnegan’s Wake. That is to say, there is a collective psychic unity of the human race engaged in making the world transparent to the transcendence. Like poetry, myth always points beyond itself; what we see and experience intimates what we do not see; it is a metaphor of the transcendent, intimations of immortality, so to speak as the poet Wordsworth put it. It is prolific especially in what Vico calls the era of the gods or the era of the poetical. The metaphors found in myth go beyond words and even beyond  ethical rationality; beyond even good and evil, as our colleague Friedrich puts it. If the myth of Genesis then is not an historical linear event but a metaphor,then I ask if we should not conclude that God is also a mystery who transcends all human historical and philosophical categories of thought, including the one most in vogue today, that of being and non-being? Do the Buddhists have it on target when they insist on not even mentioning God, never mind the categories by which He/She can be described?

Giambattista Vico: what you say about myth, Joseph, makes eminent sense, albeit I find the recourse to transcendence of human categories and reason via rationality, in both you and Friedrich a bit circular. That may be so because the historical narration seems to be absent in your description of mythology. In any case, there is no doubt that the poetical and the mythological (what in my opus I call the era of the gods) precedes the rational (what I call the era of the heroes) as well as the full fledged rationality of the third era (what I call the era of men).

However, I have a problem with which I wish you’d help me out: when you say God is a mystery best explained as a metaphor within a myth, are you also saying that there is no such thing as a personal God (which does not mean a material God or an idol) who creates the material universe and then enters into its space and time (its history) to interact with it; that Genesis is indeed a metaphor going beyond rationality, the poetical attempting to reveal the eternal source beneath the temporal transient material phenomena. Is Jesus the Christ another demigod or hero of Mount Olympus who experiences the eternal source and then reveals it to us mortals, not as a person but as a myth? That is to say, is Christ just another myth as expressed at a particular time and place within a particular people: the Jews, at a par with, say, a Zeus, a Thor, or an Odin of pagan mythology?

I suppose what I am asking is this: is the image of God just another metaphor or a lie, that is to say a myth or is the mythological and the poetical pointing to something beyond itself, as you put it, but something that is not a lie but Truth itself? Did not the man from Nazareth, after all, say “I am the Truth?” Was he deluded or just preposterous? Or is he merely a mythological construction? Why did he then not say “I am the grand narrative and the grand myth and the grand metaphor?” Would that not have been a bit less preposterous? Is God transcendent or immanent; are those two concepts mutually exclusive or can they be harmonized and seen at complementary and therefore can Christ be seen as the culmination of everything human, of humanism itself? Seen thus, Is not Christianity the most human of all religious expressions?

Moreover, what continues to puzzle me and others who have reflected on the matter is how twelve ignorant fishermen from Palestine decided one fine day to stop fishing, leave their families and their routine work behind, and go to Europe to talk about this grand myth invented by their fertile imagination, and talk about a hero of their mythology, a demigod called Jesus pointing to the Source; and that they were ready to die for such a myth or idea, a la Socrates. Indeed I could easily imagine a Socrates so acting, but not twelve ignorant fishermen from Palestine. Could it be that their commitment was to a person and a personal God for whom they were willing to die, not to a mythological demigod?

Aristotle: I think we have put our finger on something important here, something that as a pagan devoid of what you call knowledge by revelation, I don’t know much about,  and it has to do with the interaction of myth and history. I and Plato deemphasize history; we think of it as messy, not precise and abstract enough. The question arises here: is myth, as Vico, puts it part of the grand-narrative that is human history? Or is religion and religious beliefs part of a grand mythology conceived non-lineally and non-historically, something that appears as a cult now but eventually in the future will appear as just another superseded myth? I think it is crucial that we delve into this philosophical conundrum of myth/history. I see that Mr. Gibbon wishes to speak. Go ahead Edward.

Edward Gibbons: Indeed Aristotle, we are on to something. As I mention in my The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire the pagan myths of the Greeks, the Romans, the Germanic tribes, the Vikings and Nordic people were the original myths of European culture but unfortunately were supplanted by a foreign myth coming from the Middle East which preached humility and pusillanimity which grievously hampered the traditional Roman martial spirit which could and would have stopped the ferocious barbarians of the north. They had been defeated at various previous times by the Roman army. There was no need to change  native pagan European mythology which had served well in pre-Christian Europe and had produced a “master’s morality,” with a myth from the Middle East that has Jehovah as the supreme god, resulting in what our friend Friedrich calls “a slave morality,” ushering the dark ages and the Middle Ages based on ignorance and superstition, what Voltaire calls “the gothic” regressive anti-liberal, legalistic doctrines of the Church producing the Inquisition and the Crusades. We need to wait till the age of the Enlightenment and Reason in the 18th century  for human history to resume its progress.

Christopher Dawson: Edward, with all due respect to yours and Nietzsche’s profound philosophy of human civilizations, do I seem to detect in what you just said a bit of Volterians bias against Catholicism and Christianity in general, what we in Catholic circles call “the last acceptable bias”? Have you just turned on their heads what even a pagan like Aristotle would call the virtues of patience, tolerance, moderation, humility, studiousness, hard work, magnanimity, not to speak of the Christian virtue of charity and care of the underprivileged, and turn them into vices, while making the ferocious intemperate aggressiveness of the barbarians, their chauvinism and sheer violence, their thirst for military glory and conquest, which indeed were also present in the Roman character if truth be told, since they too were human with all their faults, as exemplary virtues whose loss is to be lamented and that allegedly brought about the decline of the Roman Empire?

Have you ever entered a Gothic cathedral Edward? You may call those magnificent artistic constructions barbaric or “gothic” as our friend Voltaire used to say, but, I dare say that, even an enlightened philosopher like Kant would not dub those works of art primitive and barbaric. He would certainly not dub the patient transcribing of Greek and Latin manuscripts going on in Christian monasteries and preserving the ideas of the likes of Plato and Aristotle, here present among us today, wanton destruction but one of a mitigating civilizing influence which helped in preserving what could still be salvageable in Greco-Roman civilization.

When one reflects on those considerations one begins to wonder if your celebrated historical tract on the decline of the Roman Empire, due to the loss of the Roman martial spirit, as you claim, ought not be construed as an anti-Catholic biased tract contemptuous of a whole period of history called Medieval. And yet, I dare say, that it was in that period that Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire, achieved a level of cultural unity (a common cultural language, Latin, a common religion with its Christian humanistic values which came to the fore in the 14th, 15th and 16th century, a common religious culture which made sure that the center held and an identity as Europeans was forged and held in place); a cultural identity, I say, which remains unsurpassed even today in the age of the EU; the substratum of the idea of Europe. As you all know, I have written extensively on this regrettable virulent bias still alive today in my book The Making of Europe:  An Introduction to the History of European Unity; I would have hoped that by now the biased record had been corrected, if not expunged. Regrettably, It appears not. 

Aristotle: gentlemen, gentlemen, please remember what I said in the introduction. Disagree all you wish, be passionate if you must, but without being disagreeable and disrespectful. Stick to the issue please and refrain, if at all possible, from ad hominem arguments. We are not here for proselytizing a religion or other or a myth or other, but to objectively analyze and reason. Let’s not give the impression of being zealots.

Friedrich Nietzsche: indeed, Aristotle, let’s stick to the issue at hand. It is all well and good for you and Giambattista and Christopher to insist on truth, reason and the rational approach based on harmony, but the rational approach has unfortunately become a convenient way to make a sham of the human perspective. God becomes a convenient excuse to impose a legalistic slave morality on people; a way to let them ignore the former “master morality” imposed by the warrior class in Homer’s epics. Edward makes a valid point when he says that such an indigenous morality was supplanted and in many ways subverted by a non-indigenous morality coming from the middle east and emphasizing, restraint parading as Hellenic moderation, humility, parading as piety, egalitarianism parading as democracy, otherworldliness, and submission to God parading as piety, all  appealing to those who resent the exceptional worldly fiercely nature of the warrior class which they are unable to imitate. Slave weakness becomes a matter of choice and becomes meekness. The good man of master morality becomes the evil man of slave morality; the bad man of master morality is recast as the good man in Christianity, thus unique original European values are contradicted in the name of a religion which claims to be universal but is really an export from a retrograde middle eastern culture out to subvert a superior European culture; a middle eastern culture which has managed to invent good and evil substituting them for good and bad.

We philosophers need to remember that exceptional people like us follow their own inner law beyond good and evil and are mindful of Pindar’s maxim “become what you are.” I have expressed all this extensively in my Beyond Good and Evil as well as The Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo where modern utilitarianism, Kantianism, rationalism, pseudo egalitarianism are challenged while the vital naturalistic impulses of life of pagan culture are emphasized. It appears that my appeals have all but been ignored.

Christopher Dawson: Friedrich, am I wrong in detecting a tinge of anti-Semitism in your remarks which spill over quite naturally into anti-Christianity; after all Christianity, as Paul reminds us in his epistle to the Romans is a branch on the tree of Judaism. Do you mind explaining in better details, besides those of master/slave morality, the advocacy (via a madman at two in the morning) that God is dead? Are we to wonder why fascists of many stripes have found your philosophy so appealing, granting that you did not intend their twisted interpretation? I am willing to grant that ultimately your philosophy is not anti-Semitic; but your own sister who published your work certainly wished to give that impression.

Friedrich Nietzsche: indeed you are quite right here. My sister did a great disservice to me when she posthumously published some of my unpublished writings under the banner of anti-Semitism which is and remains a despicable phenomenon. Judaism per se is not anti-European; in fact Jews should be thanked for advocating respect for the philosophy of ancient Greece producing a Jesus, a Spinoza and the Book as the most effective moral code of all times which changed the ethics of the West in a radical way; the masses of people need religion as an opium of sort, as Karl reminds us,  but we philosophers ought to know better and we need now to move on, beyond good and evil.

Christopher Dawson: It seems to me that you are trying to have it both ways Friedrich. As they say in America, to have the cake and eat it too, or as your philosophy goes “both/and”. Can we be both good and evil at the same time or choose one or the other as is convenient to us at a particular time? Is relativism the only currency of the philosophical realm now?

Friedrich Nietzsche: it appears that you are not listening Christopher. I did not say that good and evil are the same thing; I did say however that good and bad in the warrior class are of ancient Europe were mutually exclusive; it was the slave morality of another culture and another religion that invented good and evil and introduced it in Europe as a guilt producing albatross to be carried around in one’s consciousness. We need to move on and go beyond that to rediscover the vital roots of European civilization that produced what Socrates calls “men of gold,” “men of silver,” and “men of bronze”. Back to origins as Giambattista likes to quip.

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Christopher Dawson: indeed, but the results are apparent to all: we presently detect a resurgent Nazism and Communism (the other side of the coin on the left) in Europe, as we speak. A spiritual substitution to Christianity has been made by way of extreme political ideologies. The political zealots who advocate them have been reading your books enthusiastically and are putting your philosophy in action; they make the zealotry of Christianity look like a picnic in comparison. In fact, they put to shame the zealotry of Christian evangelists and missionaries. They are surely willing to die for their ideas and, what is even more disturbing, are willing to let many millions of people die with them for the same fanatical ideas. They are even willing to blow up the world for an ideology. Aristotle had it on target: virtue is not at the extremes but in the middle, in moderation and in harmony. The Romans had it on target too when they quipped that the corruption of the best is the always the worst kind of corruption (corruptio optima pessima).

Aristotle: gentlemen, gentlemen, let us also remember not to descend into ethnic chauvinism unworthy of a united people calling themselves Westerners or Europeans, and let us be moderate in our critique, and, most importantly, stick to the issue at hand.

Arnold Toynbee: I have been silent till now, but if I may be allowed to address this issue of the enfeebling of the spiritual and vital natural forces in a civilization to which Friedrich has just alluded, I would say this much for now: in my career as a cultural anthropologist and historian I have examined no less than 26 civilizations following their development and demise. I have argued, and continue to do so, that as Christopher has alluded to, the Cold War was nothing less than a religious competition of Marxist heresy vs. the West’s spiritual Christian heritage. In some way Marxism is derivative of Christianity and as such it remains a foreign ideology in China. This became possible because the West had already misguidedly discarded Christianity and substituted it with an extreme secularism which advocates that religion be relocated to the privacy of the churches or synagogues or mosques for one hour a week, unwelcome in the public agora; hence Mao could brand religion “poison.”

So Christopher you may also be right: a substitution of spiritual forces has occurred and atheism and agnosticism is a convenient excuse for it. The fact remains that in Medieval times Catholicism was a sort of spiritual cultural glue for the whole of Europe and furnished the whole continent with a cultural identity. It could still do the same today were it accorded an attentive ear and be considered at least as a spiritual guide (with no necessary commitment to practice the religion as a doctrine) as the EU founding fathers, mostly Christians, certainly unashamedly advocated. One such was Benedetto Croce who was no practicing Catholic but he advocates in his famous essay Why we cannot but consider ourselves Christians that without an analysis of Christianity there is no understanding of the West. The ineluctable historical fact is that societies at times end up exhausting their intellectual spiritual resources and become unable to meet an incoming challenge or disaster and then end up committing suicide. I have more than proven that such is the case in my A Study of History which took thirty years to write. What Europe needs to do now is to honor its advocacy of multi-culturalism and accept other faiths and other religions as part of the mosaic that is its cultural fabric. This cannot be accomplished if religion and Christianity have already been liquidated as anachronistic and non-enlightened.

Aristotle: most interesting, Arnold. Two questions arise in my mind and are addressed to both of you, Arnold and Christopher: do you consider Communism a spiritual force as well as a geo-political force, the way the Nazis considered Nazism a vitalistic naturalistic spiritual force? And secondly, is what you write prescriptive or merely descriptive? This is important to me, for to be merely descriptive means that nothing is being advocated for the future, while to be prescriptive means that errors and mistakes have to be acknowledged but also repented of and corrected so that we can move on to a better future.

Christopher Dawson: not surprisingly and true to form, this is an excellent question Aristotle and goes to the very heart of the issue, as your questions usually do. So we are back to Giambattista’s question about the twelve ignorant fishermen. How is it possible that they could have invented a myth and sold it so successfully to the whole continent of Europe, to the educated Romans and Greeks first, and the fierce barbarians later? Of course it could not stop the savagery of the barbaric hordes from the north such as the Vikings who had their own Norse mythology; eventually they were converted to Christianity, but what is bizarre is that both Edward and Friedrich seem to be saying that it was the cultural enfeeblement brought about by Christianity that brought about the downfall of original European culture and religion. That seems to me like putting the cart before the horse. It is so improbable as to be surreal. It is more reasonable and plausible, it seems to me, that the allegiance of the twelve ignorant fishermen from Palestine who show up in Rome and Athens one fine day was not a commitment to an idea or a myth but to a person.

With all due respect to Joseph’s conception of myth, we must consider that in fact Christianity was a powerful spiritual force, an idea whose time had come, so to speak, for which twelve ignorant fishermen were ready to die. Those twelve fishermen called the apostles were no Socrates or Plato or Aristotle out to convert the masses of Europe to rational discourse. As Chesterton points out in his The Everlasting Man, Christianity can legitimately be considered the first natural religion of Europe, given that it is natural to worship a God who created the universe and gave it a purpose and keeps it in existence, and it is not natural to worship gods who resemble us so much that the worship can be considered idolatry and narcissism, the worship of the products of one’s mind, the idea of God of Aristotle who calls him The First Cause. I do not go to church to worship the First Cause. I would consider that philosophically useful in my studio when I examine civilizations and their developments, but not religiously or mystically very meaningful in my church or any other church.

We are currently experiencing the result of a widespread apostasy in the West. Hilaire Belloc correctly observed that “the Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.” What Belloc is asserting is the simple fact that Europe and Christianity seem to go hand in hand. G.K. Chesterton said pretty much the same thing. They both assert that at the very least the recognition of that cultural fact is needed to preserve European civilization. It appears that as the Faith has declined, so too has our sense of identity and purpose. Confusion abounds in the matter, and I am afraid, Friedrich that your notions of “slave morality” have not been particularly helpful in the matter. As a result we seem to become progressively more disillusioned by a pervasive nihilism and despair. Manners and customs have declined, traditional marriage and birthrates have dropped precipitously. Europe stands on the brink of a cultural disaster despite its relative material and technological progress, all buttressed by positivism or a near religious belief in science. The torch of Christianity has dwindled in tandem with European influence in the world. It seems that Belloc had it on target: as the Faith goes, so goes Europe; that seems to be the trend independent of the practice or non-practice of one’s faith.

To answer the second part of your question: I consider my extensive writings on Christianity as a powerful spiritual force, to be both descriptive and descriptive, they must be descriptive as part of the historical record, but they are also prescriptive. I remain convinced that had the political writings of the EU founding fathers been read more carefully by the current myopic politicians and secular humanists who claim the leadership of the EU but cannot see further than their nose, they would have been  convinced by them too and would have considered returning to, or at least considering the return to a Faith which has been substituted with the trivialities of soccer games on Sunday as the common cultural denominator that makes us all Western and Europeans. They would desisted from subjecting the Church to irrational bias and prejudice. Today’s so called secular humanism, when examined closely, resembles little the original authentic humanism of a Petrarch or a Michelangelo.  

Aristotle: most interesting comments, Christopher, I’d like to hear from Friedrich too on the matter; thank you also for the allusion to my natural theology. I would tend to agree. If indeed God whom I call the First Cause is transcendent, beyond the categories of reason (the categories of reason of Kant), as Giambattista points out in postulating transcendence and immanence at the same time in God, then he cannot be a merely immanent natural god, a mere Zeus of Greek mythology who exhibits himself by throwing lightening darts at those he would revenge himself against, or by making them sick. Socrates and Plato and I respected the gods as tradition and heritage but did not go to temple to worship an idea created by our own mind. We would have considered that a waste of time, so would most modern Westerners and Europeans, even those who dabble in witchcraft and carrot cards and the horoscope (another trivial substitution for religion); not even the so called neo-pagans willing and forever ready to debunk religion and declare freedom not of religion but from religion would return to such practices.

What Christianity has proposed is something else altogether which I am not sure I fully understand. I am not sure I fully understand the concept of the Christian cardinal theological virtue of charity, or mercy or forgiveness of enemies, or forgiveness of sin, or expulsion from the garden of Eden, or salvation, albeit I fully understand the Christian virtue of generosity and magnanimity. Perhaps it is this persistent fog hanging over the cardinal virtue of charity in Christianity that has led to all kind of confusions not excluding the nihilism of Friedrich who has declared God dead and wishes to resurrect good old pagan ethics. Perhaps it has produced Machiavelli’s explanation too together with Friedrich’s explanation. I would be delighted with a return to Hellenism, but in reality it seems impossible; too much of what is best in today’s Europe would have to be eliminated. As already mentioned, the Romans who borrowed a lot from the Hellenic world, including our gods, would wisely say “Corruptio optima pessima” [the corruption of the best is always the worst kind of corruption.”] That maxim goes a long way in explaining the Nazi and the Communists as fanatical ideological zealots.

Giambattista Vico: well said Aristotle. Plato of course was adopted by Augustine exactly because his description of God and the forms beyond space and time more closely resembled the transcendent Christian God. Aquinas on the other hand adopts your philosophy as scaffolding to his theology and he almost got summoned by the Inquisition for doing so. Paradoxically he later has been declared by the Church its number one doctor among the 22 it lists (5 of them women). How times change! Indeed, as I say in my own opus, man makes history, but history makes man is also true.

But the question persists: what is the proper role of mythology in Western identity? It can safely be declared that, if nothing else, the major benefit that pagan mythology provides is its rich history in European literature as well as the appropriation of pagan symbols for Christian use. C.S. Lewis and Jurgen Habermas were very appreciative of such influences. Christian Europeans have a long and proud history of appropriating the myths, symbols, holidays, and traditions for Christian usage. By appropriating the best elements of our pre-Christian past, they were able to create a vibrant culture that wed Christian orthodoxy with the good taste of what came before. This is especially evident in the era of Humanism which originated in Italy in the 14th century and synthesized Antiquity to Christianity. Many scholars consider my work as the culmination of Italian humanism begun 400 years earlier.

A caveat may be in order here: what I just said does not mean mixing pagan and Christian elements together in worship. No Italian humanist worshiped in Greek or Roman temples, albeit Machiavelli dressed in a Roman toga when he wrote his famous political tracts. Pagan deities were simply honored as heroes of ages long past who were not divine and could not deliver anyone from sin, death, or evil, never mind the devil himself. This did not mean to our European forebears that pagan symbols and traditions could not be cleverly redesigned to convey a Christian meaning. A good classical example of the synthesis of pagan history reinterpreted through the prism of Christian theology is the Sibylline Oracles, which as an excellent example of classical poetry.

Joseph Campbell: But there was an appropriation of pagan symbols into Christian practices. A prominent example of the appropriation of pagan symbols to Christian use is from the Celtic conversion: the endless knot which was a pagan symbol representing the mythic union of the sea, land, and sky. When the Celts converted to Christianity the endless knot was converted in its meaning to represent the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A similar example is the example of the sun wheel, a Neolithic European symbol intended to worship the Sun. This symbol was given a new Christian meaning and is now easily recognizable as the Celtic cross. Traditional Christian symbolism abounds with examples of pagan traditions and symbols being used to convey a Christian meaning. The pagan Phoenix came to represent the Resurrection of Christ. The Easter egg came to represent Christian rebirth. The pagan feast of Saturnalia corresponds with the dates of the Christian Great O Antiphons leading up to Christmas. The Christmas tree is partially derived from the northern European pagan feast of Yule, and is given a Christian meaning in renewal. There are many more examples of Christians appropriating the best pagan symbols for Christian use.

Pagan theology is unquestionably no longer a tenable worldview for the European mindset. Europeans have been conditioned by centuries of Christian belief to see the universe ordered by a single all-powerful God, and the existence of pagan deities was simply interpreted as representing the heroes and mighty men of old before the days of Noah. The pagan heroes came to be worshipped as gods due to their extraordinary longevity and prowess. By the time of the advent of Christianity in Europe, paganism had long since run its course and had degenerated into state-worship.

Christopher Dawson: what you say is quite true and reasonable Joseph, but as Chesterton points out, it took a good thousand years of medieval monastic asceticism and purgation, so to speak, to cleanse the gross enormities to which the pagan mind-set had descended. This is not to deny that Aristotle had indeed arrived via reason unaided by revelation at the idea of one god who creates the universe which Aristotle then calls First Cause, and then gives it a natural law; but his image of god remains abstract, impersonal, a mere product of reason, a mere idea, albeit the highest idea a philosopher can conceive and contemplate. It is certainly not the personal, providential God of history, the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, in many ways the modern West is experiencing the same problems that the pre-Christian West did. Europeans are now preoccupied with hero and state-worship, and they are experiencing the same abuses of the state that our ancestors did under Caesar, to wit the EU myopic bureaucracy unconcerned with the spiritual and the transcendent aspects of the life of destiny of Man. The whole game now has to do with the quest for power and influence or as Friedrich puts it,  “the will to power.”

The ineluctable fact is that, as Chesterton correctly points out, contrary to the protests of neo-pagans, Christianity is the native natural religion of the European people. For, it is natural to revere heroes; it is unnatural to worship heroes as gods. Pagan religion was a perversion of the natural inclination to admire the finer traits of human character. Christianity was a positive transition in Europe to the worship of the one true Trinitarian God.

Nevertheless Joseph you are partially correct when you say that we Europeans are obliged to our pagan predecessors who forged many of the abiding symbols that we use in today’s Christian faith. Christian authors, architects, composers, theologians, and artists have always demonstrated a profound respect for the pagan traditions and symbols of Europe. But this respect has always been demonstrated within the context of a steadfast devotion to Christian orthodoxy. Paganism as a religion is dead, and will remain dead for the foreseeable future. We Europeans and Western people in general can and should appreciate the exploits of Thor, Odin, and Zeus — yet without worshipping them as gods, but rather honoring them as ancestors of our ancient past without chauvinism toward other mythologies. One may say that paganism is preferable to nihilism but not that it is superior to Christianity which has declared the Greek gods mere myths and creation of the human imagination.

Aristotle: As an ancient philosopher I may be wrong here but it seems to me that the most laudable attribute of our European ancestors as exemplified by the founding fathers of the European Union was their quest and desire to understand and express truth which you surely emphasize in your philosophy which has become perennial philosophy in the West. The question returns: what prompted Pontius Pilate to ask Christ about truth? It was Christ’s simple and yet profound assertion that He himself was the Truth, the Way and the Life, and that truth could only be ascertained through belief in him. Christ stated, as per New Testament, that the whole purpose of His ministry was to convey the truth. “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” Christ, as he comes across in the New Testament’s gospels, is not a myth like Zeus, Thor or Odin but an historical person born at a particular time in a particular place among a particular people; however his mission is not just for a particular people but seems to be universal just as truth and reason are universal, meant for all people, for it is the truth that shall make us free. Pope John Paul II’s words to the European Congress and Christopher Dawson’s words in his The Making of Europe, remain prophetic: as Faith declines, so will our beloved Europe. I as an ancient philosopher understand faith as trust but even that by itself is certainly superior to finding no meaning in the universe and nihilistically declaring human life meaningless too, a la Sartre. So, even as an ancient I think I can confidently declare that for Europe, and indeed the West, to be Europe again and assure its survival, even in a merely political universe, it must once again become the Faith as exhibited by a Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, the age of faith which precedes Christian humanism. I think I have learned that much from this symposium. Plenty of food for thought!

[Applause can be heard in the auditorium of the Lyceum and the Symposium is declared closed by its moderator Aristotle].

 

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 END  OF 68th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (15/04/2016)

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