Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Hylomorphic Self

The thesis of self-ownership, not the ideal of freedom, is the real basis of libertarianism and Capitalism. Defenders of the thesis of self-ownership generally focus on the “ownership” part of the thesis and say little about the metaphysics of the self that is said to be self-owned. But not all accounts of the self are consistent with robust self-ownership. Philosophical accounts of the self are typically enshrined in theories of personal identity. There are many of these theories but not all are suitable for grounding a metaphysics of the self consistent with self-ownership. As it happens, only one such theory is suitable: the hylomorphic theory* of Aristotle and Aquinas. To adopt such a theory, however, is to see that self-ownership may in some respects have implications different from those many of its defenders take it to have.
*hylomorphism is the view that a substance is defined by a combination of the matter from which it is made and the form which that matter takes.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Individual and community in Early Heidegger: Situating das Man, the Man-self, and Self-ownership in Dasein's Ontological Structure
Edgar C. Boedeker Jr:

"In Sein und Zeit, Heidegger claims that (1) das Man is an 'existential' i.e. a necessary feature of Dasein's Being; and (2) Dasein need not always exist in the mode of the Man-self, but can also be eigentlich*, which I translate as 'self-owningly'. These apparently contradictory statements have prompted a debate between Hubert Dreyfus, who recommends abandoning, and Frederick Olafson, who favors jettisoning. I offer an interpretation of the structure of Dasein's Being compatible with both and, thus resolving the Dreyfus-Olafson debate. Central to this resolution is the distinction between das Man and the Man-self. Das Man is one of three existential 'horizons', or fields of possibilities; the other two horizons are the world and death. At any time, Dasein encounters entities in one of two basic modes: either by 'expressly seizing' possibilities of the horizon, or by occluding these possibilities. These modes are 'existentiell', i.e. features of Dasein's Being that are possible, but not essential. Self-ownership and the Man-self are the two basic existentiell modes of being oneself, i.e. projecting everyday possibilities of oneself appropriated from the horizon of das Man. What differentiates these two modes is the stance one takes to the possibility of death, the existential horizon of being oneself."

*eigentlich is an example of a particle that has no semantic (truthconditional) meaning, but rather signals which role a speech act plays within the given discourse by blocking contextually salient conclusions that otherwise might be drawn by the recipient.
Heidegger acted very shabbily during the Nazi regime, which just goes to show that thinking about Selfhood does not give you Selfhood.


"When a society adopts the rule of self-ownership, then mankind as a group makes headway faster and easier. This is not only because each individual can flourish better... It is also because such a rule is consistent with free markets and cooperative behavior. In fact, self-ownership and free markets are implied by each other. Given self-ownership, we can expect free markets to occur given that people benefit from trade because of specialization. Conversely, where markets are free, people are able to exchange and produce freely, which means that they have self-ownership. All of the many virtues of free markets and property rights, detailed by many writers, are support for the axiom of self-ownership.
Mankind's choice is clear: self-ownership or non-self-ownership. With self-ownership comes individual flourishing, free markets, cooperation, and learning. Without self-ownership comes suppression of the individual, controlled exchange, greater conflict, and a dulled spirit. Without self-ownership comes a regimented society."

-Michael S. Rozeff, Professor of Finance at the University at Buffalo.
There are two types of slavery: slavery to the superego, and slavery to the ego. Consumerism does not bring true Self-ownership; at most it brings ego-ownership. Western individualistic capitalism has delivered much on a material level, and can justifiably congratulate itself on having outdone the communist experiment, on that level, but it is increasingly based on consumerism which, by pandering more and more to human desires and weaknesses, erodes free will. To have free will one must be free of desires, because desires become conditionings. The notion of individual selves is increasingly doubted by science. There are no individual owners of selves.

Kundalini Spirals

Images of the Kundalini in William Blake's art

Cool Production Design

Scene from the film Black Narcissus.
Love the production design for the mountain monastery.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The small self

The small self - ego - is an imaginary being

Sikh Nondualism

“When I saw truly, I knew that all was primeval. Nanak, the subtle and the gross are, in fact, identical,”

“That which is inside a person, the same is outside; nothing else exists;
by Divine prompting look upon all existence as one and undifferentiated.”
- Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion saw no dualism between self and world.
"As fragrance abides in the flower,
As the reflection is within the mirror,
So doth thy Lord abide within thee,
Why search Him without?"

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Taoist Wisdom

"Hold your fist tight, you grasp nothing inside. Open your hand, you will have the sky on you palm."

Monday, February 12, 2007

I shop therefore I am

"An important contribution to the critique of consumerism has been made by the French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, but very little of this has been translated into English. Stiegler argues that capitalism today is governed not by production but by consumption, and that the advertising techniques used to create consumer behavior amount to the destruction of psychic and collective individuation. The diversion of libidinal energy toward the consumption of consumer products, he argues, results in an addictive cycle of consumption, leading to hyperconsumption, the exhaustion of desire, and the reign of symbolic misery. At the same time, however, he does not believe that simply opposing capitalism is a viable strategy.

While there is not precisely an intellectual movement to promote consumerism, there has been, in recent years, strong criticism of the anti-consumerist movement. Most of this comes from libertarian thought. For example, Reason magazine, in 1999, attacked the anti-consumerism movement, claiming Marxist academics are repackaging themselves as anti-consumerists. James Twitchell, a professor at the University of Florida and popular writer, referred to anti-consumerism arguments as "Marxism Lite."

The libertarian attack on the anti-consumerist movement is largely based on the perception that it leads to elitism. Namely, libertarians believe that no person has the right to decide for others what goods are "necessary" for living and which aren't, or that luxuries are necessarily wasteful, and thus argue that anti-consumerism is a precursor to central planning or a totalitarian society. Twitchell, in his book Living It Up, sarcastically remarked that the logical outcome of the anti-consumerism movement would be a return to the sumptuary laws that existed in ancient Rome and during the Middle Ages.
Conversely, many anti-consumerists believe that a modern consumer society is created through extensive advertising and media influence, rather than arising from people's natural ideas regarding the kinds of things they need. In other words, anti-consumerists tend to believe that consumerism is an artificial creation sustained by artificial social pressures, while libertarians tend to believe that consumerism is natural and the only way to eliminate it is through artificial social pressures."
(Crosspost from Wikipedia)
It pays to bear in mind that it was not so long ago that people trying to alert the world to global warming were called 'pinko subversives' and considered to be saboteurs of Western interests, so the 'Marxist Lite' brand should be consumed with a conspicuous amount of salt.
Discerning retail therapy can be a way of encouraging businesses that have a positive effect on long term prosperity. But rampant consumerism is damaging the planet and the human psyche. Consumerism, under the banner of freedom of choice, can actually erode free will by pandering to human desires. Desires become conditionings which inhibit freedom of choice.

Ownerless thought and the Cogito

Mark Rowlands (really the argument was given by another philosopher, Georg Lichtenberg, in the 18th century), argues: "Perhaps there are just thoughts, and no person to whom the thoughts attach." Perhaps, that is, there are 'ownerless' thoughts. This may be understood in at least two ways. First of all, there may be a bundle of thoughts, but no mind that has the bundle. Secondly, there may not even be a bundle of thoughts, but just 'free-floating' thoughts, and no mind. Note that the argument is not that this is the case. The argument is only that this might be the case. The argument is only that "Perhaps" there is no mind. That is all that is needed to undermine Descartes' 'cogito ergo sum' ('I think, therefore I am').
However, this argument can in turn be countered with the argument that it is simply not possible for thoughts to exist without minds (or souls) having them. Thoughts, on this argument, are the acts of minds. If there is no mind, there is no act of the mind, i.e. no thought. Hence we could argue as follows:
(1) If a thought exists, then a mind exists.
(2) A thought exists.
———> A mind exists.
However, Descartes wants to argue not merely that some thought or other exists, and hence, that some mind or other exists. He wants to argue that the thought that exists is his thought, and hence, that his mind exists.
(1) A thought exists.
(2) If a thought exists, then a mind exists.
(3) The thought that exists is a thought of my mind.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Cerberus by William Blake

In Greek mythology Cerberus was the terrifying, three-headed watchdog who guarded the entrance to the Underworld. In Hindu mythology Shri Bhairava, the aspect of the Divine who protects people from the denizens of the Underworld (the superego), has a dog as his vehicle.

The superego is the accumulated conditionings of years of human life. If the awareness goes too much into this region of the mind it becomes a hell. Superego is as much a danger to Self-realisation as the ego.

Friday, February 09, 2007

'me' and 'mine'

"He is a knower of the Self to whom the ideas ‘me’ and ‘mine’ have become quite meaningless."

-Sri Adi Shankaracharya

Shankaracharya (c. 800 CE?) was the first philosopher to consolidate the doctrine of Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta, a sub-school of Vedanta.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Anava (from "anu", meaning an atom or an exceedingly small entity) is a state - the consciousness of the ego, the sense of "I" and "mine". This represents a sense of individuality and a separation from a general existence of any "divine plan". One of the three Buddhist malas or bondages: anava, karma and maya (illusion). The three malas or pashas are also explicitly discussed in the theology of Shaivite Hinduism. In Shaivism, anava is the cause of the individual soul's mistaken sense of separate identity from Universal God Siva, and the last bond broken before union or Self-Realization (moksha).

Friday, February 02, 2007

Chola Bronze Shri Ganesha

Shri Ganesha's elephant head indicates wisdom through an absence of deluding, human ego and conditionings.

The Banquet

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Illustration by William Blake to Milton's Comus

showing human banqueters transformed by the magician Comus into animal-headed beings. Animals are egoless, so a human with an animal head is symbolic of the egoless state. Similarly, in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Prospero the illusionist transforms a group of self-deluded banqueters in order to reveal to them their true selves: "they shall be themselves". In a strange paradox he deludes them in order to remove the delusion of ego.

Marc Chagall

The Mind is a Two-edged Sword

"Give me two good reasons why I shouldn't behead you."

Chairman Miaow

The idea of non-ownership of self conjures up images of mindless masses smiling obsequiously at the head of state who will think for them. This would not be so much of a problem if the head of state was egoless. Instead a collective superego state is created, which is not true non-ownership of self, because the ego has been surrendered to another owner, not to the Self. Marxism can only work if each member of the 'commune' is Self-realised.
Crossposted from European Tribune:
Yes, I know that online polls of any kind shouldn’t be taken all that seriously. Still it is amusing, as well as a little depressing, that Karl Marx has been voted the greatest philosopher in history on the website of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time. He got 27,93 percent of the votes, well ahead of the runner-up David Hume at 12,63 percent, and the bronze medal winner Ludwig Wittgenstein at 6,80.
Though it’s uplifting that the voters obviously have seen past the horrific mockery of Marx’s ideas made by 20th century dictatorships - a cruelly ironic fate for one of the least statist and most anti-authoritarian thinkers ever - the ranking is patently ridiculous. True, Marx is without question a towering intellectual figure whose highly original output fills a hundred thick volumes and straddles a range of disciplines from history through sociology to economics. But only a fraction of it is usefully called philosophy and even the parts that are, like his thesis of self-realization through work, are heavily indebted to indefinitely more deserving nominees. Aristotle, anyone? He finished ninth.
As to the other top contenders, I personally don’t mind that the underrated David Hume smashed the anally-retentive Kant, who came sixth, but let’s face it: He isn’t the second greatest philosopher of the ages. The inscrutable Wittgenstein is an equally mysterious choice for #3.
On the face of it there is national chauvinism at play, inasmuch as all three highest-ranked thinkers either were British (Hume) or produced some of their most influential work in Britain (Marx and Wittgenstein). With all three of them living in the last three centuries and Plato - to whose thought all of Western philosophy has been called mere footnotes - clocking in fifth after Nietzsche, there is also a measure of time dilation involved. The end result reminds me a little of another British poll a few years ago which determined the greatest composer of all time to be Robbie Williams.