viernes, 4 de octubre de 2013

The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools and Contemporary Philosophy (I)


The origin of Contemporary Philosophy is usually situated in a series of philosophical movements that agree in opposing in an innovative way to Hegel's philosophy. The young Marx considered Hegel as a sort of Aristotle of Modern Philosophy (see in this blog, “Hegel y Aristóteles”) who opened a new age in the development of philosophy similar to that of the hellenistic philosophical schools that came after Aristotle with the Epicureans, Stoics, Skeptics, etc. Schools that will not be now merely Schools of Knowledge, as the Platonic Academy and the Aristotelean Lyceum basically were, but Schools of Salvation, in the sense that in them knowledge is subordinated to the saving action of the individuals. This is why in such new schools supreme knowledge was practical knowledge, Ethics.

We can, this way, following Marx's indication, generalize such comparison between the third century before Christ and the nineteenth century. Accordingly, Marxism would be a philosophical movement alternative to modern society, just as Epicurism wanted to be alternative to the Antique society. Marx himself in his beginnings took his admired Epicurus as a model, who he saw as a precursor of enlightened critique to religion and as the creator of a philosophical movement that advocated an alternative lifestyle to that one of the society of his time, getting to have a lot of followers scattered over the Greek and Roman cities (the lecture of Benjamin Farrington's book, The Faith of Epicurus, Littlehampton Book Services Ltd, 1967, is very illustrative in this regard). We can say, thus, that Marxism is a sort of modern Epicureanism in which the friendship that united the Epicurean communes is substituted by the worker's fraternity in the fight for an alternative to the society of their time. This society would show itself as utopian, since Epicureanism began to loose strength as a social movement around the 2nd century AD and Marxism after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was not foreign to the successful performance in the transformation of society of an opposite philosophical tendency, as was Stoicism in the ancient world and Positivism in the modern. Because if Epicureanism and Marxism set the goal of their efforts in the achievement of a happy life, of a paradise on Earth, Stoicism sets its principal objective in the triumph of the Virtue that would enable to reform from the inside the political society really existent and the Positivism in the Comtean combination of Order with Progress, renouncing alternative utopias that promise a purely illusory world. Hence, Marxism and Positivism are so different philosophies and so opposite as Epicureans and Stoics were in ancient times.

Nevertheless, both Epicureans and Stoics had in common their strong commitment to human rationality as a sound instrument of truth knowledge and guide in life. They were considered “dogmatic” philosophies in the sense that they rested on rational principles in consistency with which they deployed their philosophical statements, which were taken to be wise. A school had risen against this strongly rationalist position that would eventually undermine it and subject it to a devastating critique: the Skeptic School founded by Pyrrho. It is in the time of Arcesilaus and Carneades, well advanced the Hellenistic period, when Skepticism achieves quite a success in his fight against the weakest aspects of Stoicism, e.g., the astrologic beliefs. Furthermore, Skepticism reaches a new form of ataraxia or mind imperturbability with the discovery of the impossibility to attain absolutely true knowledge and the conformity with knowing the merely probable. Such critiques influenced the renewal of Stoicism undertaken by the so-called “Middle Stoa”, by Panaetius of Rhodes, who develops a critical Stoicism, rejecting, for example, the astrology and its inexorable predictions of the future, and recovering the classic Platonic legacy taken by the founder Zeno, commencing in this way a transcendental renewal because of its later influence in the Roman Stoicism following Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. Epicureanism suffered, without being able to renew itself, the skeptical criticism, practically disappearing in the 2nd century AD. This was due also to the success of the Stoicism renewed during the rationalization of the Roman Empire at the time of the great emperors of the 2nd century, when it became an official ideology (see Renan's book, Marcus Aurelius and the End of Ancient World, Ulan Press, 2012).

The equivalent of the critical function that skepticism carries out regarding Epicureans and Stoics is, we think, in contemporary philosophy Schopenhauer's and Nietzsche's Vitalism, in the sense that its main critical strength is aimed against a fundamental belief common to both Positivism and Marxism: the belief in historical Progress. The idea of the Eternal Return that Nietzsche associates with his Zarathustra allow him to introduce the possibility of overcoming progressivist humanism, outlining the figure of an ultra-human beyond, in an overcoming of the ideologies of Modernity, that proclaims the Irrationalism of life, of Nature as Will, against History. Nietzsche's influence opened the possibility of new forms of positive philosophy, such as those engendered in Husserl's Phenomenological Movement (who went so far as to say ¨We are the true positivists¨), specially in Max Scheler and Heidegger or Ortega y Gasset. At the same time, it caused a political reaction against Marxism which took to the Second World War and the following Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the lose of influence of Marxism starts to be perceived, as well as the need to limit the development defended by the dominant positivistic philosophies of Order and Progress, because of biological, ecological, climatic, population factors, etc. It appears too clearly in the global political horizon the supremacy of the new Rome, the USA, where positivistic philosophy is today the most influential compared to Marxism or Nietzschean Irrationalism, although it seems that a deep renewal of such Positivism can be discerned in George Lakoff's and his follower's work, who are inspired in Husserl's later phenomenology of the Lifeworld, as a key to explain cognitive processes.

However we don't believe that Phenomenology yet represents the appropriate philosophical movement for the revitalization of Positivism, today in crisis due to the degenerative specialism to which the Analytic Philosophy has driven philosophy. It seems to us that the overcoming of Husserl's or Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological Positivism is possible through an operatiological Positivism that incorporates in a philosophical manner the renewal of the theorization of human knowledge introduced by Piaget in the picture of the so-called “Cognitive Sciences” of the second half of the 20th century. In this direction we have proposed some basic approaches in the book “Introducción al PensamientoHábil” (2007).

Manuel F. Lorenzo

(Translated into English by Luis Fernández Pontón)
"The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools and Contemporary Philosophy (II)"

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