Friday, January 24, 2014

Conflict, Reason, and Science in Greek, Chinese and Christian Civilization

William Heidbreder:

I hypothesize that it is because the central idea of Chinese civilization is harmony, whereas one of the central ideas of Hellenic civilization is conflict. (Think Achilles, tragedy, Heraclitus, dialectic). I haven't yet figured out what my argument would be linking conflict to either science or industry, or to capitalism, though the link to democracy and liberty is obvious... Harmony is conservative and modern science is experimental and involves risk-taking; I think I could make an argument linking this to liberty and democracy. 

Ryan Haecker: 

Yes, I agree that among the central ideas of Hellenic civilization is conflict, and this may be contrasted with the Chinese idea of harmony. Both of these ideas are situated in the guiding religious consciousness of the nation. 

For the Greeks, the idea of conflict is to be found already present in the myth of the Titanomachy, in which Uranus (Heaven) cast out the Titans birthed by Gaia (Earth), Chronos (Time) overthrew Uranus (Heaven), Zues (Sky) overthrew Chronos, and then expelled the Titans to the nethermost void of Hades (Hell). Here we have a mythological depiction of a conceptual conflict between the natural laws of Heaven (Uranus), the fatalism of Time (Chronos), and the sovereign power of the Sky (Zeus), that is instigated by a primordial conflict between natural Mother-Earth (Gaia) and the artificial patriarchal rule of Man (Uranus-Chronos-Zues), and which is personified in the monstrous-others, namely the Titans, the Giants, and the Centaurs. I interpret this mythic conflict to implictly refer to a historical memory, elevated to transcendent religious conscious, of the suppression of primordial naturality (Gaia) by the artificial imposition (est. c. 3000 BC) of Indo-European fatalism (Chronos), which was, in turn, supplanted by immanent Mycenaean palatial sovereigns (Zues), and thereafter by the Doric invasions (Sons of Heracles) that are understood by religious conscious as a cultural filiation, in which theogonic Mycenaen palatial civilization (Zues) sires anthropogonic and heroic Hellenic city-states. The conflict of Greek religion may thus be interpreted to originate in and through an ideal dialectic of religious concepts that is correspondingly evidenced in the pre-historical events that shaped the Hellenic world. This ideal religious dialectic corresponding to pre-historical events, moreover, shapes Hellenic religion and culture just as it definitively sets the Greek world apart from the other Near Eastern civilizations, of the Phoenicians, the Hittites, and the Egyptians. I believe that the activity of formulating the cultural spirit of Greek culture is narratively established for Hellenic religious consciousness in the (approximately dated) 8th century epics of Homer and Hesiod; in the artistic sphere in the 6th Century BC turn away from the 'archaic' Phonecian and Egyptian artistic forms; and in classical 5th Century BC Periclean politics and Pre-Socratic philosophy of the Golden Age of Greek Civilization.

Chinese civilization underwent no such comparable dialectical conflict of religious, artistic and philosophical ideas until after the axial formation of its central religious and philosophical conscience during the Warring States Period (c. 8th to 3rd c. BC). It was not until the 3rd Century AD, during the Three Kingdoms period and the Chinese Dark Ages, that the Doaist-Confucian scholar-gentry of Chinese civilization were challenged by the radically new importation of the Indian religious idea of Buddhist Nirvana, and Boddhisatvahood, which imposed the conflict of supernatural transcendent dualism (Atma-Maya) upon the naturalist immanent monism (Dao). During the preceding Han Dynasty (c. 2nd c. Bc to 2nd c. AD), the Chinese had developed a normative canon of the Chinese Classics, the state-model of Confucian governance, and the revelations of Neo-Daoism that were adequate, for their religious self-understanding, to philosophically explain and incorporate the imported ideas of Indian transcendent dualism within Chinese immanent monism, as a suppressed pole betwixt the internal dynamic opposition (Yin-Yang) of the Dao. Consequently, the idea of conflict that is so essential to Hellenic and Western Civilization was ideologically suppressed and politically oppressed throughout the history of Chinese civilization. I explain in the third part of my lecture series (Act II, part 2) how the guiding religious idea of Daoist harmony in Chinese civilization resulted in the oppression of dissenting scholar-bureaucrats who, beginning with the Northern Song Dynasty (11th c. AD) reforms of Wang Anshi, sought to reform the inherited Confucian model of government finances, inspired by the discordance and universal compassion of Buddhism, that anticipated liberal economic theories of the mercantile class generating wealth through the exchange and speculation on commodities. I attribute the insularity of the Late Chinese Empire, during the Ming and Qing dynasties (c. 13th to 20th c. AD), to this failure of the governmental-economic reforms of Wang Anshi, which would ultimately establish the politico-economic pattern that would set the circumstances for the conflict between the Occident and the Orient during the Opium Wars, the Unequal Treaties, and ultimately the collapse of the governmental system of Imperial China.

William Heidbreder: 

"Did modern experimental science owe more to the Greek or the Jewish (and/or Christian) roots of the West? I believe Hegel said that Greek culture lacked the idea of liberty, which is wholly modern and which he thinks (do you know what is his argument?) comes from Christianity... Of course, ancient science begins with Greek mathematics and philosophy. Galileo was heir to the Renaissance and its rediscovery of the Hellenic world. The idea of the pursuit of truth through inquiry is Greek and not Jewish in origin... Did the Greeks invent argumentative rationality? Of course we don't fault the ancient Jews for not being philosophers or Socrates for not being a monotheist. But I have heard people say often that either Christianity or Judaic monotheism is what made possible science, and I think that is an interesting claim, but I wonder. I wonder if there is any truth in this at all; the contribution of the Greeks seems indisputable."

Ryan Haecker: 

In the fifth and final lecture that I presented this summer (Act III), I argued, in answer to the Needham Question of why modern science was uniquely developed in Western Europe, that the origins of modern science are to be found in the Judeo-Christian religious conception of God as the law-giver of universal nature, that was absent in Chinese civilization, and largely eclipsed in pagan Greco-Roman antiquity. Without a law-giver there can be no real and fixed laws of nature. Without laws of nature, there can be no discovery of these laws for human understanding. This is a simple syllogism from monotheistic religion to modern natural science. However, it does not establish how modern natural science developed from within the spiritual milieu of Western Christendom. For this, I think we need an additional argument from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in which the 'Unhappy Consciousness' of Medieval Catholic monastic piety, exemplified in the Cluniac Reforms and the explosion of mendicant orders such as the Franciscans and the Dominicans, motivated the will of man towards an ever closer identification with the will of God. Hegel argues, in the concluding pages of the section BB of the The Phenomenology of Spirit on Self-Consciousness, that the asymptotic identification of the will of man with the will of God historically engenders, from within this dialectical voluntaristic interplay, the emergence of the autonomous self-legislation of the psychological faculty of the Understanding, which establishes the spiritual conditions under which modern natural science operates. Hegel writes (the brackets are mine):

"Through these moments — [α] the negative abandonment first of its own right and power of decision, then [β] of its property and enjoyment, and finally [γ] the positive moment of carrying on what it does not understand-it deprives itself, completely and in truth, of the consciousness of inner and outer freedom, or reality in the sense of its own existence for itself. It has the certainty of having in truth stripped itself of its Ego, and of having turned its immediate self-consciousness into a “thing,” into an objective external existence. It could ensure its self-renunciation and self-abandonment solely by this real and vital sacrifice (of its self)... But in the sacrifice [e.g. of asceticism and the Mass] actually accomplished [i.e., α, β, γ], while consciousness has cancelled the action as its own act, it has also implicitly demitted and put off its unhappy condition. Yet that this demission has implicitly taken place, is effected by the other term of the logical process (Schluss) here involved, the term which is the inherent and ultimate reality [i.e. of God]. That sacrifice of the subordinate term [of willing self-conscious mind], however, was at the same time not a one-sided action [for subjective self-consciousness]; it involves the action of the other [objective God]. For giving up one's own will is only in one aspect negative; in principle, or in itself, it is at the same time positive, positing and affirming the will as an other; and, specifically, affirming the will as not a particular but universal [will of God].... Hence its will certainly becomes, for consciousness, universal will, inherent and essential will, but is not itself in its own view this inherent reality... This unity of objectivity and independent self-existence which lies [conceptually implicit] in the notion of action, and which therefore comes for consciousness to be the essential reality and object... But in this object, where it finds its own action and existence, qua this particular consciousness, to be inherently existence and action as such, there has arisen the idea of Reason [for the Understanding], of the certainty that consciousness is, in its particularity, inherently and essentially absolute, or is all reality." - PhG §229-230 [Ref:]

Hegel describes how the voluntary activity of ascetic mortification for blessed pneumatological union with God (theosis) produces a practical syllogism [i.e., α, β, γ] that, for the self-consciousness of the ascetes, absolutely negates the "inner and outer freedom" of their individual wills and the "reality [of their] self-existence" for themselves, and therewith unites them, in and through their own voluntary activity, with the "objective external existence" of the "ultimate reality" of the divine essence. The negative practical syllogism of monastic asceticism thus results in the positive affirmation of the objective autonomy of the divine will of God, which is one and the same in simple unicity of the Godhead, with the divine reason of God. In the phenomenological emergence of psychological faculties in the spiritual development of world-history, Hegel argues that the voluntary dialectic of High Medieval Christian monastic asceticism prepares the spiritual ground for the emergence of the Janos-faced Modernist dualism of Late Medieval Nominalism and Early Modern Rationalism which jointly condition, for the Understanding of 'Observing Reason', the objectified autonomy of the reason and will of Nature. Therefore, both through its prior genetic origin and through the posterior conceptual sublation (Aufheben), Judaic lawfulness and Christian asceticism constitute an essential practical idea within the conceptual operation of modern natural science, and consequently also of Modernity shaped by natural science, with all of the politico-economic aspects of liberal-democracy, autonomous rationality, and individual subjectivity that this entails.

Download Ryan Haecker's guest lectures on the history of China – Oriental History in Three Acts: 

Act I:
Act II Part 1:
Act II Part 2:
Act II Part 3:
Act III:

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