In a previous article with the same title, published in this Blog (The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools.. ), we sketched a comparison that sought to show the similarities between Contemporary European Philosophy and the Hellenistic tendencies, with the aim of specifying the most presently general tasks that present themselves to philosophy. The most outstanding thing of this comparative analysis, which follows a tradition initiated during Hegel's time by a young Marx modern emulator of Epicurus, was the comparison of Stoicism and Positivism, which, together with the historical-political diagnosis embraced by many nowadays, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, comparing the USA with the new Rome, took us to consider the possibility that Positivism, because of its greater influence in the USA over other main contemporary tendencies, such as Marxism or Vitalism, both seriously discredited because of their respective influences in Soviet Communism and Nazism, it had the chance of being raised to the form of the official philosophy of the USA, in the same way in which Stoicism got to be in the 2nd century the official philosophy of the Roman Empire. But we also considered that Positivism should renew itself deeply, refound itself, just like Panaetius' and Posidonius' Middle Stoicism did. We think that the same is happening with the positive philosophy of the Embodied Mind defended by Georges Lakoff and others against the Analytical Positivism predominant at the start of the Cold War but today in clear decadence and creative exhaustion.
Lakoff & Johnson, in their famous work Philosophy of the flesh (1999), propose abandoning the standing points of Analytical Positivism in order to progress towards those of a positive philosophy that relies on the spectacular advances made by the “Cognitive Sciences” in the last decades in Artificial Intelligence, Neurology, Cognitive Psychology or Linguistics, which would be revitalizing philosophical standpoints such as the later Husserl's and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology. However, we believe that they still fall too short, for they should also take more into account Piaget's Genetic Epistemology, in so far as it entails an essential methodological modification in regard to Husserl's Phenomenology and the Gestalt Psychology, upon which many of his brilliant analyses about perceptual knowledge rested. A modification that we could formulate as the move from a methodology of descriptive analysis, characteristic of Phenomenology, to what could be called a constructivist operatological methodology, exercised by Piaget's Genetic Epistemology. But, since the great Swiss psychologist didn't want to give his discoveries philosophical grounding, because of his scientistic prejudices, such grounding is still awaiting for those of us who consider that the culmination of a scientific revolution motivates unavoidably a reform of Philosophy. Hence our proposal of the possibility and necessity for a philosophical refoundation of Positivism as Opetatiological Positivism (see in these Blog: “For a refoundation of Positivistic Philosophy”).
But the need of refound Positivism must not only take into account the present state of development of the “Cognitive Sciences”, as Lakoff & Johnson do, but it is rather necessary to recover also some historical-philosophical coordinates, generally forgotten nowadays, which strongly characterized the originality of Positivism itself as a philosophical movement. Because Positivism is to be found today strongly divided and seriously weakened in the unity of its commonly accepted assumptions, which leads to bitter polemic and to disorientation in many cases. An intelligent attitude, when we get lost in our way, consists in retracing our steps, return to the starting point in order to see if our loss is due to our having taken from the beginning a wrong direction and if it is possible to orient ourselves again by rectifying. For this reason, if what here is at stake is to refound Positivism, and not merely to patch it in order to go on, we must return to its origin, we must reread the founders of the movement, the French Positivism of the beginnings of the 19th century. In this sense and in connection with the issue in which we are engaged about the comparison of Contemporary and Hellenistic-Roman philosophy, it is a good idea to read what the Count of Saint-Simon wrote: “the period of time that presents the greatest analogy with our own is that in which the civilized part of the human species has gone from polytheism to (mono)theism through the institution of the Christian religion. This period of time is, then, the only one in which we must look for some probable traces of the general course that the present events will follow. For, in this memorable moral revolution we can distinguish with great clarity the following two sorts of action: on the one hand, the Christian doctrine has been systematically coordinated by the philosophers of the School of Alexandria; on the other hand, it has been preached and extended by men coming from all classes, even from those whose particular interest was in greatest opposition with the new system. Absolutely the same will happen with the industrial doctrine. Only the positive sages will concur in its formation. However, all classes of society, without excluding that of the idle owners, the legists, the military and even the princes, will provide it with apostles animated with the greatest zeal. All will be called upon and many will be chosen” (Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, Du Système Industriel, Oeuvres de Saint-Simon, E. DentuÉditeur, Paris, 1869, vol.6, t.II, pgs.61-62, the translation is ours).
As it is known, Saint-Simon sees modern society as an unstable society, in crisis and in transition to a new society, organic and stable in comparison with Greco-Roman civilization. Greco-Roman civilization was characterized by the constitution of a society critical of the old organic societies and acted opening a transitory phase that prepared an organic society of a new type and that would remain stable almost for a millennium during the medieval times. Neither Saint-Simon nor Comte shared the Voltairean prejudices against the European Middle Age, seen by the enlightened as a period of relapse and barbarism. On the contrary they considered it a true overcoming, in many aspects, of the old pagan period: “Today is not the first time that the human genre finds itself in a moment of transition form a social regime to another founded on a different philosophical system. A similar transition already took place approximately in times of the Roman Imperial Government. The philosophical revolution undertaken back then consisted in the step from polytheism to (mono)theism. Once finished the revolution, once (mono)theism was organized, the corresponding political revolution, which consisted on the step from the old social order existent among Greeks and Romans to the one established among modern peoples” ( C.H. de Saint-Simon, L`Industrie, ed. cit., vol.3, t. II, p. 23). Saint-Simon himself points out hereafter to Socrates as the one who starts the critique to pagan polytheism that will lead to Plato's and Aristotle's monotheism, and that of the Stoics. The School of Alexandria of the christian Clement will initiate, as Saint-Simon points out, the fusion of Christian beliefs with the Greek philosophical monotheism, specially the Stoic and Neoplatonic, that will influence decisively in Cappadocian Patristic and Saint Augustine.
This medieval order, in Saint-Simon's opinion, was superior to the old one because of the development of monotheism as a more rational religion than the polytheist religions, not in an absolute sense, but in a functional positive sense, for it was what corresponded to the degree of knowledge achieved by Greek science and philosophy that made possible that already in Cicero's time, just how the French author reminds us, two Roman haruspices, cultivated in Greek philosophy, when scrutinizing the bowels of the sacrificed animals in order to predict the future, couldn't stop looking at each other trying not to laugh. The Roman educated class had by then stopped to believe in polytheistic religion and was beginning to get closer to christian monotheism, more in line with the Stoic philosophical monotheism that starts to prevail in the Rome of Cicero. In a similar way, according to Saint-Simon, Modern Philosophy consistently with the tremendous advance in human knowledge that entails the scientific revolution in the Renaissance, will start to ridicule Medieval Theology to the point of calling into question the Idea of a monotheist God, from which science can prescind, already with Kant and Laplace, when explaining the formation of the Solar System. However, Saint-Simon and Comte, unlike the conclusion that would lead Marxism to eliminate any belief or religious practice as false, irrational and characteristic of fanatic superstition, consider that religion is not going to disappear, but it will rather transform itself in a religion without God, that Saint-Simon will call, with the title of a later work, Nouveau Christianisme, and Comte, the Religion of Humanity. In short, two forms of religious Humanism, one of them evolutionist and the other disruptive. Even the old Schelling, who preconized by then the foundation of a positive philosophy from Munich and Berlin, against Hegel's speculative Idealism, considered that neither Pauline Protestantism and Christianity would be the culmination of Christianity, but that there would be a future Christianity which would overcome it, the one that inspires the Gospel of John, in which the unity of the Church of Peter and the freedom of Pauline Protestantism will reconcile themselves. A christianity that will reconcile itself and “will merge with science and universal knowledge” ( F.W.J.Schelling, Philosophie der Offenbarung, S.W. XIV, p.321).
Comte's Religion of Humanity, which defiantly breaks up with Christianity, all together with its Positivist Calendar of sages, its temple in Paris dedicated to his adored Clotilde de Vaux, etc., was ridiculed as a pars pudenda of his work by Stuart Mill and remains today as one of the extravagances of him who Ortega called “brilliant madman” (a recent and large revision and study of this final phase of Comte's work can be found in Mary Pickering's Auguste Comte. An Intellectual Biography, 3 vol., Cambridge University Press, 2009). However, Saint-Simon's evolutive proposal of a new Christianity that locates its dogma not in divine biblical messages – before many of which an educated person cannot help laughing, just as it happened in Cicero's time with the Roman haruspices – but in the moral massages of the Gospels which preach the search for fraternity and peace among humans, seems today more sensible and adequate to the new Rome, the USA, where civil society finds itself less secularized than in Europe, being this way Christianity largely dominant. Another issue is that the humanist belief, that today manifests itself strongly and daily in the identification of crimes against Humanity and human rights violations with cardinal sins, is not univocal, but it is rather understood in different ways, sometimes opposite in metaphysical humanism, christian humanism or positive philosophical humanism. But, in spite of this, other religions such as the Jewish or the Muslim have more difficulties. In them the figure of a God-Man is not conceived and, therefore, their contact with modern philosophical humanism causes retrograde and fanatic fundamentalist reactions, more dangerous in the case of Muslims because of its larger number of followers.
However, as it happened in Rome, the development of a new religiosity that corresponds with the developmental level and knowledge at which modern Humanity has arrived presupposes the development and systematization of an appropriate philosophy. In the same way that Roman Stoicism was appropriate to the level of knowledge of its time, with its new Ideas of Equality of the Human Genre, or of cataleptic phantasy as an affirmation of the rational possibility of certain knowledge against the skeptical doubt or the cynical imposture of so many that thought of this as supreme wisdom. New ideas that opened the way to a system of rational and stable beliefs, triumphant since emperor Constantine, with whose spiritual leadership a new organic society was able to crystallize as the Medieval in Europe. A society politically divided in succeeding reigns, but ideologically united by the international institution of the Catholic Church. Without the stability and the secular order reached by such a medieval society, according to Saint-Simon, it would not have been possible to develop the new forces of industry and science that, incubated in their womb in the revival of the city with is forums and the creation of the Universities, will end up yielding a modern society alternative to the medieval society, but that is still going through the crisis typical of the transition state in which it finds itself and which characterizes the present Western Civilization as they did, in their time, the Greco-Roman.
Manuel F. Lorenzo
"The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools and Contemporary Philosophy (III)"
(Translated into English by Luis Fernández Pontón)
"The Hellenistic Philosophical Schools and Contemporary Philosophy (III)"