PHILOSOPHER IN THE ARM-CHAIR ON THE BALCONY OF AN IVORY TOWER


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Abstract

The call of virtues can sometimes demand from a philosopher to abstain from forming beliefs and demonstrating them publicly in praxis. The deviation or even retreat from politics is not always forbidden for a philosopher. C.f., dramatic and bright Heraclites, a refugee from public life, inspired by the vision of Cosmos-Logos; or a concentrated Chinese daos; or Descartes sitting in an armchair in a castle writing his innovative and brave opera amongst Europeans wars; or, even better, the Stoic philosopher who abstains from social and political “noise” if his moral abilities and wisdom cannot influence the decisions and actions taken in public affairs. When personal ethics come in conflict with public events which become “immune” to his opinions and moral praxis, then philosopher of the Stoa would strive to protect his inner world staying out from all these - in an Ivory tower of his thought. Not only in social life which means political or ideological battles can a philosopher deliberately abstain from judgment, conviction and belief. Scientific praxis, too, gives us such examples; say, the promotion of some new hypothesis, which the scientist defends from criticism, may require intellectual courage… but not lead to a certain conviction. There is a new trend in the theory of knowledge called “virtue epistemology”. Creators and followers of this trend usually distinguish between the two kinds of intellectual virtues, which are called the low-level [“S knows that p, because s/he has seen that p”) and high-level virtues [“S knows that p, because s/he has open mind or is intellectually persistent”]. All virtues of the low level are abilities to form beliefs, whereas high-level virtues can manifest themselves in the abstinence from belief. (K. Lepock [4] and others). Where there is no conviction in belief, there can be no responsible social or scientific action.

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Introduction This article was written more than twenty years ago, and I still think the same way. Time goes by, vividness and liveliness is fading away, and age takes the word. There is less energy for street fleshmobs [flash mobs] and for the passionate speeches from the rostrum; there are more hours in the armchair by the writing desk or on the balcony. However it is not only age that makes a leader of opinions leave the streets and live in an Ivory tower. The call of virtues can sometimes demand from a philosopher to abstain from forming beliefs, both individual and collective, let alone demonstrating them publicly in praxis. Let us recall of dramatic and bright Heraclites, a refugee from public life, inspired by the vision of Cosmos-Logos; or a concentrated Chinese daos; or Descartes sitting in an armchair in a castle writing his innovative and brave opera amongst Europeans wars. These two beautiful metaphors - “Ivory tower” and “philosophy in an armchair”, - stir a temptation to use in this text rather free literary style than scientific functional one. We’ll see what happens. I was born in the Soviet Union. My generation was brought up on radical Marxist-Leninist ideas. To illustrate the mightiest tools and instruments used to form our beliefs and convictions, the following scene painted by Vladimir Mayakovsky is probably the best. He entered, bowing politely. I shake his hand: My comrade, do sit down; can I help you? What can I give you? An autograph? Some reading?... No, Je vous remercie, I am a writer. You? Are? A writer?? Excuse me. I thought you were a zooty. And you... Well, do recite me something, do ring and toll with a formidable battle march! Whirlwind of ideas you might have, and a wagon of news, - welcome to both ears in, I’m glad to meet a comrade! And he goes ahead: I am a poet. Not a prose writer. No; I'm in connection with the muses! (The style is exquisite like a greyhound; ce qu'on appelle la poésie). To the back of the head with a gentle gesture he threw the silk of his curls, and became a gold-coat ram, and bleated, and began: That the moon, they say, is over the valley, there rushes a stream, they say, along the canyon; he tinkled like a mandolin, trumpeted like cello, - the halo wrapped around his haystack-hair, and his forehead burned with nobility... I tried and tried to endure - and then burst out, and struck with a paw on the table: I ask you, speak more shortly! That’s enough for you to sham а poet! Just look at you, from the face, or from behind - you're a tulip, not a writer! You, flaunting over the clouds, are a bird, in human growth! You, monsieur, are from canaries, you are a siskin, monsieur, and a thrush! To the ordeal of battles and troubles - with you, or what, we'll throw ourselves?! In our time, he is a poet, he is a writer, who is useful! Remove this sugar-pie from me! You should produce such verse as is bread delivery; in our days the writer is the one who will write the march and the slogan! No doubt, I adored Mayakovsky, and I still do. In one other poem of his it was explained that while some (canaries) boil out, chirping rhymes, some kind of brew of love and nightingales, - the street writhes, devoid of tongues, it has nothing to scream and talk with. Sure, I felt I had to be in the street, in public, helping my fellow-men to find wording for their righteous needs and demands. What was the use of golden parakeets and their chirruping? He is a poet who sings to battle. That meant to be a communist, a Marxist. Though not in an academic manner, this article is meant to treat first on justice in connection with power and the struggle for power. It is strange, but for many months I could not bring myself to write about these “vertical” races. Tomorrow is the First of May. Our unhappy country became ashamed of this holiday in its original, ideological sense. A massive three-day departure to the country is now a good tone; students go on hikes; concerts and festivals awkwardly adjust to the former solemn day. It’s not that I’m sorry - well yes, I really feel very sorry for the former May Day, although it was I who, with all the inherent sharpness, liked to publicly declare that I cannot stand holidays with political wadding. Give me New Year’s Eve and birthday, nothing more. I’ve been approaching this topic for a long time, realizing the almost unbearable weight of the task. However, this is not a scientific article for a socio-political journal, but an autobiographical story “into the table”. It is necessary, finally, to speak about this determinant of our life quite definitely. From the usual frames, patterns, templates and clichés, I presume to use the opinion of Artyom Troitsky on the “Soviet rock” of the 70s, a German fairy tale about the division of inheritance by an old miller drafting his will, one witty remark from the “Baltimore Sun” about the apple pudding and the myth of Epimetheus and Prometheus presented by Protagoras in Plato’s dialogue. Oh yes; and one charming Russian proverb mentioning my favorite treasure - pearls. Social virtues. About communism, in theory and practice There is no humane society except communism, and Marx was the last and brilliant prophet of it. There is no ideal more humane than a society in which the free development of every single man is a condition for the free development of all, and where everyone gets what s/he wants, giving back what s/he can. There is no, and there won’t be a better ideal. A separate comment is required for the rapid transformation of Manifesto’s “specter of communism” into the bogeyman of communism, with an interval of barely a hundred and fifty years. Firstly, if today some of the people completely cheated and tortured to obfuscation, - but people, and not the goons-mafiosi - are scared by the very word “communism”, let them speak differently. Let them say “artel” [team], “brotherhood”, “early Christianity”, “mahalla”, “moism” (or “modism”, after the name of the Chinese philosopher Mo-Di), “fellow countrymen”, “City of the Sun” (this is the old way) or “Auroville” (this is a new way, these are students cities like Christiania in the center of Oslo); and there is a still more remarkable Russian word - sobornost’ [≈general assembly specially caring about spiritual perfection; the best-beloved term of the best religious Russian philosopher Vladimir Solov’ev]. You might think it is very old-fashioned; but no, it’s fashionable, youth-new. My university students who are not alien to the idea of saving spirituality use it meaning spiritual unity of many people living together. Or yes; “community” might be the right word, at the very least. As a semiologist, I’d emphasize that a word is a sign for a phenomenon. The sign can be replaced, only do not throw in the stove the phenomenon itself - the joint free labor of voluntarily, freely gathered people. You can slander and disgrace any word, any, even the greatest principle: “God”, “conscience”, “love”. Our unhappy country will shame “democracy” more quickly than “communism”, you will see. The word, I mean, because neither that nor other social order ever did happen at us in the pure and perfect kind. Here comes an example of analogy. In Robert Merle’s novel “Behind the Glass”, the character, a young quick girl, offers herself to one of the heroes of the students’ revolution of the sixties. The succumbing hero responds: “Well, all right! Good, I agree, only on condition that you unhappy goosey never in a life pronounce such a stupid word as “love”! We are friends plus sex, do you understand, you fool?” - “Well, yes! Yes, I agree!” - the girl says, rejoicing internally. “This is it”, - a smart girl thinks secretly. “This is love, let him call it what he wants!” Call it what you want, people, - a just society. If you prefer it so, call it, as Gorbachev thought to do, a “humane, democratic socialism”. (By the way, his “perestroika” became a trigger for wild initial accumulation of capital in post-Soviet Russia). And if you want, call it sobornost’. I agree. Now: how I feel about power and about the authorities = the powers that be, in this country, i.e., in Russia. I think about power as a theoretician, analytically; about those in power, however, I feel practically, hostile. In a complacent mood I treat them mockingly, in despair - with contempt and hatred, it depends. But amicably, but friendly - never and no one. Unless if we are by chance familiar from childhood. And these games I do not play, and in these races I will not participate for anything. If you asked me in chorus, no. Artyom Troitsky, speaking of the death of the Soviet rock, described in one broad brushstroke the alternative culture of the seventies, to which I had a certain predilection. Escaping from the official lies, we were flaunting in the kitchens, passing first Vysotsky’s, then BG’s [Boris Grebenschikov] records to each other, and transmitting political jokes as the greatest values of the time. The Soviet rock drew its last breath when the spirit of its political enemy, the deceitful and pretentious “time of stagnation”, had “emanated its spirit”. This music had no foe to struggle with anymore. We, folks of the seventies, have a sincere disgust for the official structures. We hate everything organized. When I was at school, one of the grannies whom I almost did not know, but my classmates knew and loved very much - such a, you know, granny “in active form” - once wrote to me in a greeting Christmas card: “Develop all your talents, especially your organizational gift”. With a shudder of dislike, I reject this wish. It is the organizational “gift” that I do not consider for myself as a talent. Of course, I can rig up a student group, even a cohort or two; I can appeal to attention of my colleagues- members of the chair at the meeting; or conduct a physical education lesson with the most casual children on the beach; or instigate my own kids and a husband to some tireless easy work, so that everyone fumbled at the same time, talking, interrupting loud music, and it would feel like a family hearth. Or I can conduct an international conference on philosophy - for free. But this is not at all the same as the whole environment at school and at home pushing me to work for Komsomol, in the Komsomol Bureau, for the position of the Students’ Scientific association’s head, or in the institute committee; my parents urging me to join the communist party, my high school cramming me to head some powerless disenfranchised council, though overlaid with all duties... At our department of social sciences and humanities there has always been less training workload than at faculty departments, but they could literally suffocate you with social work: lectures in the country districts, election campaigns (today, however, they are even more vile), propaganda work in the city, business trips to “bear corners” with explanations of the decisions of the next debonair noble Plenum, commissar work in the camp, conversations with some wretched old women in unfamiliar courtyards, the so-called “one-off errands”, - in a word, insulting slavery in captivity of the idea, which in a free state I serve willingly. And full accountability: checks and commissions, calls over calls and send-aways anywhere, literally. I acknowledge truth of the expression that existed in that time: “There is no such a bastard that we do not have in the party”. And on the contrary, of course, it happened that good people also were members of it: my parents; my teacher of philosophy. I, however, was not taken to the party, being politically suspicious. “This Tajsin lectures on socialist democracy, and on the national problems, when these subjects were long ago expelled from the program of historical materialism; then she quotes Ecclesiastes, then the Quran; then praises the West, then the East... Then the Japanese millionaire turns out her uncle... then her grandfather, it turns out, was repressed in Stalin’s time... And the language without restraint, and she speaks without looking back, neither taking the right tone with authorities = powers that be, and she goes to classes in jeans. In a word, she is not the right person”. (As well as it is nowadays). They invited me to file documents to join the party when the 27th Congress of CPSU began. I still had time to publicize its decisions. And then it all went to hell. Since then I will never join any party - unless I personally know the First Person, and that this is not a traitor. My barricade is my students. And if in the field of ethics I am a Nietzschean, in the field of dialectics a Hegelian, in ontology a “Hawkingee”, then in social philosophy, it is clear who. I’m not exactly a Marxist only in one point: I do not consider money a universal equivalent. Or maybe I just never was offered my equivalent. *** The struggle for power which is at the center of the political struggle is a dirty, immoral occupation. Remarkably, it was Machiavelli who separated politics from morality. The best politician is an immoral politician - although in his personal life he can, of course, return to the embrace of morality. And he is caught exactly on this, judging by the cinema and literature. Everyone has families, children, beloved ones. And if not then there must be, otherwise a person is not respectable; on the contrary, he is suspicious. A kind, good, gentle and just man is a weak, unsuccessful politician. Our political party was built, or gradually reorganized, now it does not matter, - by the type of a state. According to the type of state power, and not at all the schools of the hostel, all strong, influential trade unions were formed, - and those who did not do this were toothless, weak-willed and disenfranchised. So we had a threefold state power in one country. Tsarist Russia, teased by all enlightened intelligentsia “the prison of peoples” and “gendarme of Europe” in the XIX century, had one million four hundred thousand officials. Now, according to data declassified ten years ago, we have eighteen million. Today, there must be more. Marx in the “Critique of the Gothauer Program” wrote that no state is free and no one is popular. None of them. Not- a- sin-gle- one. The state, outwardly, behaves like a stern but fair charismatic father. It takes care that there is no civil war. It was Thomas Hobbes who warned that all people are equal, but only in one respect: everyone can kill another. The state interferes. Its first token and the first right is to create a fair trial. You are the eldest son; I give you a legacy as a mill. You are a second son; to you goes an ass. And you are the youngest son. You have a cat. “Why - a cat as my legacy?! Probably I’m better, kinder, smarter than the elder sons? Maybe I need more, maybe I’m working harder than they?!” - “Hush. A cat goes to you, I said”. Shut up, you proletarian of intellectual labor. Oh, you do not want a cat? Then get out from my table at all! My attitude to “state people”, officials and structures is immutable; it evolved and crystallized for dozens of years. Since the children’s magazine “Merry Pictures” came in with the vertically symmetric year 1961, and I honestly expected that in 1962 there would already come communism. Nikita Sergeyevich promised me this. As for state affairs, I will recall the myth. When there were gods already and mortals were not there yet, gods began creating mortals for birth from fire and earth. And the titan Epimetheus hurried before his brother to give new beings the necessary properties. They had a deal with Prometheus, his younger brother, that Prometheus will later come and estimate the work. And Epimetheus gave someone strength without speed, someone to the contrary; someone grew small but with the ability to fly or live underground; someone was endowed with size, some with quickness, and so all were saved. For some, he planted vegetables, fruits, nuts or grass, and some were put to be predators, but those were given only poor fecundity, and their victims, on the contrary, were awarded by fertility. Epimetheus was armed with a completely modern ecological concept: that no genus disappeared, but all could coexist. Well, he also dressed the animals variedly and supplied them with boots. It came at last to a human being, - embarrassment! Naked, unkempt, no weapons, no food, no hope! And it was the appointed time to be born... Prometheus comes. Mighty gods! “Hey, hey, you, bro! Well, you’re definitely strong in the back. I mean wise after the event. What is to be done?!” As we know, Prometheus climbed up into the chambers of Hephaestus and Athena: he stole fire, crafts, art, ways of cooking, architecture... But he was afraid to enter the chambers of Zeus because of two tough bodyguards at his door: Power and Might. (They will later lead Prometheus to be executed, to the Caucasus). And namely in those, Zeus’ rooms there contained not everyday ordinary wisdom, the ability to manage housekeeping, plain common sense - but the Sovereign, State wisdom. Of this we people, as you know, did not get anything at all. No one of us. This is the reason why in all democratic people’s assemblies, whether it is a veche, ting, a forum or a Duma, parliamentarians in all cases listen to the experts: architects, shipbuilders, doctors, etc. - and only in matters of state administration all people dare to participate and take decisions. For there are no experts in these matters - and there cannot be. I know just one exception: Marcus Aurelius. .......................................................... Let us turn our eyes once more to my unhappy country. When in the XIV century in Italy and later in all Western Europe the Renaissance began, in Russia they went about in hempen shirts, somehow plowed the land and built three-meter churches. When the Enlightenment began there in the XVII century, there were torture huts; Well, to tell the truth, after the conquest of Kazan by Ivan the Terrible, there sprang up the so-called “patterned” architecture. From somewhere. As if out of the ground. Only Peter the Great’s reforms correspond to Renaissance in our country, namely, the XVIII century; and the 20ies - 40ies of the XIX century correspond to the Enlightenment. What did we want?! Besides, back in the 40ies there appeared an acute land problem that has already destroyed four political regimes, and the current one will fall from it, you will see in a couple of years. We wanted to accelerate the course of history, its alignment. And - good conditions, finally, at last! And so we took the recipe for apple pudding in our hands and decided to bake it. And it stands there: floury white flour. What the … might this be? Take the one that is there. Next it reads: add some cardamon. What it is [you are asking]? The devil only knows. So, we do not take it at all. Next comes the “licorice root”, for example. Oh well; I heard that it’s sweet... Take brown sugar. Or simply sweet clay. Well. Next: the apples themselves, to pan, in quantities ... during ... All right, we know apples. Only it is too early for them, they have not yet matured, we take radish for now, it is ripe already, and it is red. We mix. We bake. Then we are surprised that it is impossible to eat it! “Baltimore Sun” on another occasion: “Alas, even the best recipe for apple pudding is, of course, impossible to eat, although it would be strange to consider this a drawback of the prescription”. And its authors did not yet know how freely we will treat this recipe given in the forties of the XIX century, in a country where the proletariat made up something 65% of the population, in the center of Europe - in our conditions. By the way, the homeland of communism - Italy, and the birthplace of the revolution - France, and the birthplace of Marx - Germany, are much closer to their recipes than we are. And the birthplace of classical social and economic system called capitalism, England, has not used this designation for a long time. The British today call their system “social democracy”. The shortest way to illustrate my views on these issues is as follows. There is a wonderful saying: “Everybody is crying: someone because there’s nothing to eat, someone because his pearls are small!” This is my Marxism. I do not want that people cry because there is nothing to eat. And with respect to the fact that the pearls are small, OK, let them weep! This cannot be helped: when economic problems are removed (imagine them removed), the moral problems raise their heads; let’s assume these are solved more or less - then the psychological questions stand up high, though they kept quiet until it was just necessary to save life. It is remarkable that during the times of war there are no psychosomatic illnesses. Note: they do not exist in times of real, mass threats to human life! The appearance of psychosomatics is a sign of stabilization. The crisis is passed through, life is settling down, all required food is coming, a dynamic balance is being established in politics, laws are ennobled, morality is softened, aesthetic tastes are differentiated, the press is free, ideological stamping is ridiculed, religion modestly retired to the monastery, science sings and wins, a humanistic and true worldview spreads out, - do you think that at last social contradictions are harmoniously resolved into a solemn chord of free and new life?! Now, now, there, there. What are you about? This is when the time will come when emotional and psychological conflicts will become the main ones for people. “Does he love me? Does he still love me? Ah, he does not love me as before? Or maybe he never loved me?!!” And a flap to the window! With this my social philosophy, of course, does not fight. And I’m not going to try, either. I take it for an objective law. It is Objective reality given to us in sensation. Our contemporary Greek author, the Stoic philosopher as he introduces himself, treats righteously upon the thinker who abstains from social and political “noise” if his moral abilities and wisdom cannot influence the decisions and actions taken in public affairs. When personal ethics come in conflict with public events, which become, for the time, “immune” to his opinions and moral praxis, then the Stoic would strive to protect his inner world from vice and foolishness, staying out from all these - well, yes, in an Ivory tower of his thought. Doing this, a philosopher will still remain susceptible to demonstrating care in the form of friendship or philanthropy [4, 9]. Epistemological virtues Against this background, there was an interest in such studies that declare a return to the idea of normative and regulative epistemology, the idea of a cognitive good, and attempts to redefine from these positions the traditional concepts of epistemology such as “knowledge” and “rational”. This project was called virtue epistemology, or the Value Turn in Epistemology which develops in modern Anglo-American philosophy from the 80’s and 90’s of the XX century. Epistemological interpretation of intellectual virtues by creators and followers of this trend is various; but often they distinguish between the two kinds of intellectual virtues, which are called the low-level [“S knows that p, because s/he has seen that p”) and high-level virtues [“S knows that p, because s/he has open mind or is intellectually persistent”]. All virtues of the low level are abilities to form beliefs, whereas high-level virtues can manifest themselves in the abstinence from belief. (K. Lepock** and others). It is important to show that the epistemology of virtues is first and foremost a concept belonging to the realm of theories of knowledge and it deals with decisive questions characteristic of gnoseology: What is knowledge? What is the rational? etc. Not engaging in these problems here, we pose on the situation when a philosopher should bravely speak out his credo, and when on the contrary, s/he’d better stay quiet. Intellectual autonomy*** is closely related to intellectual courage; it takes courage to think for yourself. Intellectual courage is capable of overcoming [familiar] fear that prevents the achievement of specifically cognitive goals. In applying to knowledge it is anxiety about some sort of a cognitive project. Intellectual courage and intellectual autonomy are high-level virtues that require self-positioning, self-assertion, persistence in defending one’s own point of view. However, the promotion of some new hypothesis, which the scientist defends from criticism, may require intellectual courage… but not lead to a certain conviction. Besides, an intellectually virtuous subject must adequately assess both one’s own merits and one’s drawbacks. It might be viewed as proper care for one’s own intellectual shortcomings and recognition of them. Each has its own merits and successes, as well as its weaknesses and mistakes. Proper pride is the right attitude about one’s merits; and there is a right attitude about one’s success, namely, intellectual modesty intervened with intellectual gratitude. An intellectually modest person freely subjects all ideas to the most thorough verification of objections. It also means recognizing that others have pondered, sought and found intellectual goods before you and independent of you. Therefore, we have an epistemic duty to our predecessors, at least, if possible, it is not to ignore their thought. Intellectual humility [1, 2, 7] is another high-level virtue, to which numerous discussions are devoted in the epistemology of virtues. There is some pre-theoretical understanding of intellectual humility, for example, the expression that recognizing one’s own ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. You can also quote the famous Shakespeare’s statement: “There is much in the world, Horatio, which our wise men did not dream”.** A contemporary Russian philosopher Artur Karimov studies and develops virtue epistemology. Treating the problem of intellectual humility in his doctor’s dissertation he writes: “In the modern world, religious and political extremists are waging an irreconcilable war with their enemies, because each side holds on to its dogmas. For the dialogue, it is necessary that there are those who consider it possible that their political and religious views may be erroneous. In other words, intellectual humility is necessary”. He states that intellectual humility also has to do with the problem of disagreement among experts, which is also called the problem of peer disagreement. It seems that philosophers, in general, are devoid of such a trait as intellectual humility. But what should a person do if s/he meets with an intellectually equal opponent who is informed to the same extent? Should s/he continue to hold on to one’s own opinion? Intellectual humility can play an important role in overcoming deep conflict, i.e. not just disagreement about the facts, but about the epistemic principles of the selection of facts. It is contrary to vanity and arrogance, controlling conviction and belief. Conclusion I agree with an artistic image from the paper “Knecht and Designiori” written by a Russian philosopher Ilya Kassavin: “Serving culture, the intellectual deliberately distances himself from power and opposes himself to it. The same power over the minds that an intellectual can acquire in return, he is called upon to use not for his own personal gain, but for the sake of development of culture itself, as a means of developing the intellectual potential of the whole society”***. My barricade is my students, graduate students, doctoral students, in a word - all my students. I just do not agree that for this we must start producing “mass culture”. There will be certain simplification, but it will not be greater than we use it for the sake of mutual understanding with colleagues or our students. In short: Where there is no conviction in belief, there can be no responsible social or scientific action.
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About the authors

E. A Tajsina

Kazan State Power Engineering University

Email: Emily_Tajsin@inbox.ru
Kazan, Republic of Tatarstan, Russia

References

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