International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 59 1st June 2003


I. 'Must Values be Objective?' by D.R. Khashaba

II. 'Art and the "Object Mentality"' by Jurgen Lawrenz

III. 'Zura Shiolashvili: Philosopher, Refugee' by Martin Cohen



Must values be objective? The answer to this question of course depends on what we mean by objectivity. It might appear that the simplest definition would be that the objective is what is independent of the subject. But quite apart from the consideration that any line drawn to separate the subject from what lies beyond the subject must be ad hoc, that definition and the very question which gave rise to it apparently assume that only what is independent of the subject is real. I believe that the problem of the objectivity of values is a pseudo-problem generated by a false conception of reality.

If reality is not to be found in what is outside the mind but in what is within the mind, then values will be real not so much in spite of their being subjective but precisely in virtue of their being subjective. And they can be real and everlasting and eternal -- that is, in a significant sense absolute -- in spite of being variable in their particular formulations. In other words, the relativity of particular realizations of value does not contradict the absolute reality of the source of all value. Defenders of the absolute reality of values defeat their own cause when they accept to fight for it on the terms and under the presuppositions laid down by the prevailing empiricist attitudes.

In what follows I seek to clarify and justify the position outlined in the preceding two paragraphs. I must beg the reader's indulgence for the repetitiveness, as I am daring the Sisyphean task of challenging an inveterate and nigh-sacrosanct tradition in philosophical thinking.

Military people know that if you let the enemy choose the battleground, you have practically lost the battle. I believe that defenders of absolute values defeat their own cause by accepting to carry out the discussion in terms of the empiricist conception of what is real. In the 'Sophist' Plato distinguishes two types of Weltanschauung resting, it would seem, on two types of mentality or personality. Plato designates them the Gods and the Giants. Let me quote here this passage, for I believe this is the true basis on which the problem can be resolved:

   STRANGER What we shall see is something like a Battle of
   Gods and Giants going on between them over their quarrel
   about reality.
   STRANGER One party is trying to drag everything down to
   earth out of heaven and the unseen, literally grasping
   rocks and trees in their hands; for they lay hold upon
   every stock and stone and strenuously affirm that real
   existence belongs only to that which can be handled and
   offers resistance to the touch. They define reality as the
   same thing as body, and as soon as one of the opposite
   party asserts that anything without a body is real, they
   are utterly contemptuous and will not listen to another
   THEAETETUS The people you describe are certainly a
   formidable crew. I have met quite a number of them before
   STRANGER Yes, and accordingly their adversaries are very
   wary in defending their position somewhere in the heights
   of the unseen, maintaining with all their force that true
   reality consists in intelligible and bodiless Forms. In the
   clash of argument they shatter and pulverise the bodies
   which their opponents wield, and what those others allege
   to be true reality they call, not real being, but a sort of
   moving process of becoming. On this issue an interminable
   battle is always going on between the two camps.
   ('Sophist' 246a-c, tr. F.M. Cornford.)
It is an observable fact that rules and standards of acceptable conduct differ from society to society and from age to age. Thus these rules and standards may be described as time-relative and place-relative. This indicates that they are formed by the human beings living in the respective places and at the respective times. Thus they may be described as subjective. All of this is indisputable. Now those rules and standards presumably embody certain values, certain ends seen as desirable. Then the question is posed in some such form as this: "Are those values and ends (underlying the rules and standards of conduct) devised by individuals and/or groups, and therefore unnatural and time- and place-relative? Or are they objective, with a foundation in reality?" Once this formulation is accepted, the case is lost. For, as we have already admitted, there is plenty of evidence that values -- particular exemplifications of values -- are time- and place-relative and are the product of individuals and particular societies. But who said that that makes them unreal? Who said that the real is what is not grounded in the mind? Of course we know who said that: the materialists and the empiricists have been dinning it into our ears, from Democritus and Leucippus to our present day. But the problem is that those who should know better are accepting these presuppositions without question.

The question, when thus formulated, involves a fatal fallacy and conceals a deadly trap. Defenders of absolute values step into the trap blindfolded when they accept this formulation without question. So the controversy proceeds on the presumption, first, that there is a radical opposition between objective and subjective, and, second, that objective means real while subjective means unreal. So, when a writer asserts that 'morality is a purely subjective phenomenon', that is taken to mean that there is no ultimate standard of right and wrong in morality, or, in other words, that there is nothing above and beyond the conventions forming the body of any particular moral system.

To be objective is taken to mean to be external to human beings, to be independent of mind. And according to the presumed definition of 'objective', this is interpreted as meaning that to be real is to be independent of mind, and that the things of the mind are unreal. Defenders of absolute values must cut the Gordian knot by declaring that it is the subjective that is real and that the subject (mind) is the abode of all reality.

By my juxtaposition of subjectivism and relativism I may be thought to be confusing the distinction between subjective and objective with the distinction between relative and absolute. I answer that, quite on the contrary, I am trying to show that the problem arises from such a confusion.

We have three distinct sets of opposed terms: relative-absolute, subjective-objective, and internal-external. The terms in one of these sets do not necessarily have the same correlation to the terms in another of the sets in every context.

In the controversy relating to moral values, moral judgements are admitted by all parties to be relative to time and place. Thus they are not absolute in the sense of holding for all times and places. This is taken to mean that they are subjective in the sense of mind-dependent, which is all right in this context. Hence they are opposed to objective. That too is all right when subjective and objective are correlated to internal-to-the-person and external-to-the-person respectively. But error steps in when 'objective' is at the same time equated with 'real' as opposed to unreal, illusory, and so on. (All of these terms are very fluid, meaning various things for different thinkers and in different contexts. But for the purposes of this essay I do not find it necessary to explore these differences in detail.)

I think I am not unjust in laying the blame for this error on empiricism. Hume, who consolidated the empiricism of Locke, may be regarded as the founder of the kind of subjectivism that can easily lead to the view that moral values are not real. And it was Hume who gave possibly the first and definitely the most sharp-cut formulation of the question in the faulty form which I consider the source of all the confusion we are in. In the 'Treatise' Hume writes, "But can there be any difficulty in proving that vice and virtue are not matters of fact, whose existence we can infer by reason?" Hume speaks of 'matters of fact' and of 'existence', presumably as verifiable by empirical means. Certainly virtue and vice as such are not 'matters of fact' and certainly their 'existence' in the 'objective' world can neither be inferred by reason nor be detected in any other way. But this is not the question. The question for moral philosophy should be: Are virtue and vice things whose significance for the meaning and value of human life can be shown by reason? In other words, Are they things that have reality in the moral sphere?

Hume himself in the same context affirms, "Nothing can be more real, or concern us more, than our own sentiments of pleasure and uneasiness; and if these be favourable to virtue, and unfavourable to vice, no more can be requisite to the regulation of our conduct and behaviour." I am not here evaluating Hume's moral philosophy and Hume may possibly have been grossly wronged by his followers, even the best among them; but in any case it is not his affirmation of the 'reality' of our sentiments -- whatever he may have meant by that -- but his denial of the factuality and the existence of virtue and vice which those followers emphasize, to say the least. Or have Hume's followers not wronged him after all? For when Hume goes on, still in the same context, to draw his classic distinction between 'is' and 'ought' -- however just and important the distinction may be -- he seems to have left the 'ought' hanging without any support in reality; it was, as far as he cared to show, 'subjective' in the most shadowy sense of the term. After all, he did expect his distinction to "subvert all the vulgar systems of morality [probably meaning all systems that are not 'scientific' according to his criteria]; and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely [= purely] on the relations of objects [= is not objective], nor is perceived by reason [= is not an analytical truth]." (All the above quotes from the 'Treatise' III (i) 1.)

The error of the advocates of absolute values whom Hume implicitly and Humeans explicitly criticize for proceeding from 'is' to 'ought' does not lie in their unjustifiably grounding 'ought' in 'is', but in thinking that they have to do so, that they have to ground moral principles in facts. Moral principles do not depend on facts but add a metaphysical dimension to the factual. Their reality is independent of all fact; they are creative expressions of the reality that is our very being; we, as humans, have no being apart from that reality; that reality is our metaphysical being, just as our body is the whole of our physical existence. I know that to minds schooled in the empiricist outlook that has come to dominate the modern intellect, all of this will be sheer balderdash so long as those minds take the presuppositions of that outlook to be unquestionable. I keep repeating my apparently enigmatic assertions in so many formulations in the hope that someone here or there might suspect that these presuppositions could perhaps be questioned after all.

There have been and there will be many different theories of ethics, because these theories are nothing but a conceptual re-presentation of the reality of the moral life. These theories need not be mutually contradictory any more than different landscape paintings of the same location are contradictory. A theory does not report 'facts' but creates an ideal pattern which gives intelligibility to its content. But ethical theories fall into two opposed types: outward-looking theories that look for the good in 'the world' and inward-looking theories that look for the good in 'the soul' (mind, personality). To find the good in a transcendent reality (say, God or the Form of the Good) is equivocal; it is neither a third way distinct from both the outward-looking and the inward-looking nor is it prima facie identifiable with the one or the other. Here we have to bring in the all-important distinction introduced by Socrates in the 'Euthyphro': if the good is good because God decrees it, then that is an outward-looking stance; if God demands the good because it is good, then that is an inward-looking affirmation of absolute value. Outward-looking theories (such as Utilitarianism. for instance) can be very helpful and even indispensable in such areas as political philosophy. But they cannot explain ultimate notions such as that of moral obligation or absolute values. And they become positively harmful when they presume to usurp the whole field and claim that they are in possession of the whole truth.

People, even when subscribing to the same general values and principles, may pursue different ends and may in any given situation make different judgements in good conscience as to what is right, what is desirable, what is beneficial. I think that this is inevitable, since in making a practical judgement it is strictly impossible for any human being to comprehend all the relevant factors. Consequently I believe that in debating any practical issue -- in politics, say, or bio-ethics -- it is arrogant to try to prove one's position right; all one can do is to show one's position reasonable in that it gives their due weight to important relevant considerations. But this remark is just by the way; this is not what we are dealing with here. That we will make different judgements in a given situation means of course that any such judgement is relative and subjective. How then can we say that such a judgement may be a moral judgement, if by that we mean a judgement involving absolute values and not merely valuations in terms of expediency or conventional or legal requirements?

My answer is that a judgement is moral when it is dictated by the inexorable need to preserve the integrity of the moral agent. Socrates' insistence that our highest good is our 'phronesis' (intelligence), Kant's affirmation that the only absolutely good thing is a good will, the common idea of conscience, the teaching of Jesus which is summed up in: love God (the ideal of all goodness) and love thy neighbour, all express the same insight. And I do not say that my formulation is an improvement on any of the others. It is just another expression of the same insight. Hence I affirm that moral judgements, even though their particular exemplifications are patently shot through and through with relativism and subjectivity, yet involve absolute values in being grounded in the one reality of which we have immediate knowledge, in the one value which constitutes our whole dignity and worth, in the integrity of our active, creative, intelligence.

I would draw a sharp distinction between ethical (meta-ethical, if you wish) relativism and moral relativism. I believe there will necessarily be numerous ethical theories that may be enlightening in various degrees, yet I believe there can never be any one ethical theory that cannot be shown to be defective in certain ways. That is ethical relativism (but not scepticism, because I maintain that the various theories complement and elucidate one another, and they all reveal some aspect of reality; it is believing that one theory must be true and the others false that leads to scepticism). But moral relativism denies that there are values and principles that are grounded in an absolute reality. That relativism is death to humanity.

Advocates of moral relativism argue that morality is a subjective phenomenon and think that they have thereby shown morality to have no foundation in reality. They are permitted to get away with this because their opponents concede to them the presumption that to be objective and real is to be non-mind-dependent while to be subjective is to be a figment, a will-o'-the-wisp. This is the empiricist, physicalist, reductionist dogma that has come to dominate modern thinking, a fallacy that has been institutionalized into a foundational academic credo.

There is another ineluctable form of relativity: moral values are not real for everyone. They are only real for persons in whom humanity has come to full fruition. What are we to do about this? We know that there are people bereft of conscience; we know that there are people who are motivated by a morbidly constricted conception of self-interest. I do not think that these facts militate against the reality of moral values. These people have simply not developed into human beings; their development has been impeded or their humanity has been mutilated by certain influences. Our duty is to work for a world where all children born to the human race develop into full human beings. Should the reader object that I am not proving my case but daydreaming, I would answer that in conformity with my view of the true nature of philosophy, my aim is not to establish a factual truth but to proclaim an ideal and to offer a world view that gives meaning and value to life.

When Kant laid down the principle, "So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means" ('Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals' 4:429, tr. Mary Gregor), he was not enunciating a demonstrable proposition, but affirming an ideal -- one of the most precious treasures of our human heritage.

The error of empirical relativism does not lie in maintaining that all specific moral judgements are relative, but in denying the reality of the moral life that is the source of those judgements. That reality is the absolute value in virtue of which those particular judgements have a share in the absolute.

I maintain that the reality of creative intelligence is the ground and fount of absolute value, which is actualized in particular, variable formulations. We can generalize from these particular formulations and enunciate maxims and principles of varying levels of universality, but only the reality of what Socrates referred to as that in us which is benefited by doing good and harmed by doing ill is absolute. The relativity and mutability of its particular manifestations no more militate against its reality than the imperfection and transience of all actual phenomena does militate against the reality of an ultimate, eternal ground and source of all being, however we may name it.

(c) D.R. Khashaba 2003


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It's been some time since last I saw, with my own eyes, an authentic work of art by one of the elect. The occasion was an exhibition of drawings by Rembrandt and the effect (on me) of a kind to which words barely do justice. Possibly the most astounding revelation was their size: to a beholder accustomed to large-scale reproductions in books, it was quite a shock to be confronted with these minuscule pictures. Indeed, their very smallness was telling in one respect for which nothing could have adequately prepared me: it was such as to evoke an instantaneous sense of fragility -- of how these delicate miniatures accomplished their miraculous survival in the teeth of all-corroding time, as well as to convey with just a few pencil strokes on a few square centimetres of space a unique sense of spiritual aura: spontaneously, vibrantly, as seemingly alive as myself standing there gazing at them and suddenly lost to the world or, better put, translated into another 'world' from where the other seemed to be receding like a second-hand reality.

Need I explain this antiplatonic impressionability? Perhaps not, for we no longer accept Plato's ingenious, but deeply fallacious conception of artistic mimesis and his consignment of its products to the bottom tier of reality comprehension -- as of a mirror reflecting another mirror, as of its images as "poor children of poor parents". Even in antiquity this notion incurred censure, Cicero protesting that Phidias did not sculpt a representation of Zeus, but "drew from his own soul an ideal of beauteous godlike form"; and western philosophy between Hume and Schopenhauer turned it fully around in its conception of artistic creativity as primarily the mediation of just those eternal ideas which Plato's philosophy is inclined to posit as the ultimate, metaphysical reality of things.

If the principle italicised above could be said to enjoy universal currency, there would be nothing to cavil with in aesthetic literature. However, this is not the case, for we have meanwhile become enslaved to a notion even more pernicious than Plato's mainly moral misgivings. An ever more widespread and almost unquestioned presumption among us holds that works of art are primarily objects -- indubitably so in the case of the pictorial arts, sculpture, architecture; less obviously but by extension arguable for music, poetry, drama, fiction, ballet. It may seem a harmless enough prejudice and the ire manifest in my use of the expression 'pernicious' unduly severe. Yet consider that such an attitude not only encourages the debasement of these 'objects' to the status of a commodity, but in doing so also enforces an estrangement from what is quintessentially art (as opposed to the merely 'artistic') by pre-empting any real confrontation with the heart of the matter -- the "mediation of eternal ideas" -- which entails, however, that the communication of such values speaks for an intrinsically object-less nature.

There is indeed a long-standing critical and philosophical struggle with the 'object mentality', sign of a deep-seated unease with criteria which testify to the inordinate difficulty involved in the demand for discrimination between functional (ergonological) and aesthetic entities. The analytical mind finds itself incapable of cleanly resolving the dilemma that a very abstract, 'ineffable' notion of value may be associated with one, but not the other; and this turns on the aesthetic 'value' being invariably fringed by a metaphysical halo such that monetary, exchange commodity and ownership 'values', in spite of their hard reality, are still perceived as somehow 'incidental'.

Let me exemplify this claim in relation to artworks that are objects in an indubitable sense, paintings. Self-evidently the bartering of Rembrandt pictures for millions of dollars is not based on its labour or material content, nor on the belief that it serves as a unique adornment of a gallery wall, nor indeed on its status as an icon of self-identification of the cultural groups who disburse such sums. Consider the meaning communicated by, say, the 'Polish Rider' or 'Aristotle contemplating the Bust of Homer' in today's context of saturation immersion in imagery of high technology, space exploration, sport, consumer advertising. The incongruity is such as to seemingly preclude any association whatever. Yet consider also that of these four industries, the last-named has arrogated the title of 'creative industry' to itself, and then put the question: what notion of 'creativity' prevails here, in this industry which serves in the main a throw-away consumer culture and produces ephemera that live and die with the flavour of the month? A notion, I would say, that sanctifies the objects of this kind of creativity on the same scale of deficient value-cognisance as informs the 'object mentality' that operates in the field of real art, from where indeed it derives its justification.

Let me thrust a new term into the discussion, "entropy-intensive". I'll come back to it later; presently I simply wish to point to where it applies, namely to industrial output and consumption. A poster may well have cost a six-figure sum to research, design, print and display and may even reflect the most intense awareness of the aesthetic predilections of masses of the population. Yet all the same we seem to prefer a run-of-the-mill Dutch still life and take inordinate care to preserve it from decay, whilst disregarding this marvel of artistic and technological sophistication. Indeed it furnishes a peg on which to hang a rhetorical comparison: why do we bother with Toulouse-Lautrec, 100 years after the event, while our contemporary poster-art, weighing in at untold tonnes per annum, is "found wanting"?

I'm going to put forward a radical proposition. What these few arguments (capable of infinite multiplication) put into focus is a fundamentally flawed attitude to the concept of 'ART'. They seek to highlight a dilemma that afflicts wide strata of critical and philosophical thinking: namely, that an understanding of the idea 'WORK OF ART' which begins with a conception of it as an object, is bound to flounder at the instant when criteria of value heave into sight. For it is then obliged to dissect what criteria determine value and how and why some objects fall under them and others not. But it can do this only if there is a commensurate theory of meaning, function, purpose, syntax, semantic field, heuristic intent, aesthetic impact and symbolic integrity, and you will be pleased to note that none of these are object criteria. In short, in accepting a prima facie object status for works of art, we are closing doors they intend to swing open and embroil ourselves in desiderata pertinent to an 'object-like' perspective on created values. But if the philosophical concept of art that I am here defending has the relevance I claim for it, then the material forms which works of art are obliged to adopt do not comprise them, but are their object-like tokens, or intermediaries; and from this it follows that works of art do not depend for their existence on a specific material constitution, but that this is in great measure a question of cultural idiosyncrasy.

This point is brought home to any unprejudiced observer by noting that, for example, the art of rhapsodes and bards is an inherently mnemonic performance; that in the rendition of a pianist in a concert hall no artwork-qua-object is visible; that in the heyday of Chinese aquarelle the preferred medium was the flimsiest of all materials, silk; that dance relies on a mere scribbles for its 'objective correlate'; and so on. A comparison may help; it is not fortuitous: for there is a close analogy here to the "spirit become flesh" of religious lore. The divine substance clothing itself in human vestments does not reduce the god to an animal; any more than the value which may inhere in a picture or block of marble acquires object status by its instantiation in matter. But as many futile arguments on the 'objective correlate' of music show, confusion is rampant on the question, Where in such arts may the 'work' be discovered? But the situation is altogether identical in poetry; let me go 'through the motions' to answer this question.

What is a poem? No-one could seriously maintain that the ink on paper 'is' the work, nor the book, which may contain all sorts of other things as well. But equally the words themselves are in nothing remotely 'object-like'; after all, they would still 'exist' in the absence of a paper to hold them. Consequently a poem does not make an immediate appeal to the senses as a picture does. Rather, it is the instance of an invitation to the beholder to articulate and vivify an implicit form by appropriate translation of these abstract marks into the sounds which they encrypt. Hence it would be more to the point, if anything, to call their written-out appearance an 'instruction manual'.

The crucial issue is now in focus. A creative, inventive personality, having prior to this undergone an intellectual and/or imaginative experience, finds a suitable manner of encoding it by way of an appropriate 'techne' so as to place that same experience at your disposal. In part, this 'techne' serves to transmute the imaginative structure into form, so as to facilitate what Susanne Langer's terms 'logical congruence' with the affective-volitional constitution of the mind so involved. But from this it also transpires that the formal encoding, as the conveyance by which the recipient is enabled to recreate the imaginative experience, is not an object in any primary sense, but the medium of transmission from one mind to another.

In poetry, however, this medium requires an additional material correlate (unless the poet prefers memorisation, a very limited avenue towards dispersal): now let this by all means be a book. Yet plainly the book is not the work, though it may contain the work; but then this work is not an object in the object-sense even while printed in the book, for it requires, as above, recreation in order to become an imaginative experience. Therefore in a profoundly philosophical sense, the concept of 'existence' related to a work of art eludes object-material issues altogether, for it can be said to 'exist' in no other sense than the metaphysical.

In short, 'form', 'work', 'object' and other such terms fulfil their duty as vocabulary apt to enable rational discourse on a created 'something'; but it is a sorry mistake to infer from this that resolute attention to its object-like aspect has any genuine explanatory power. That nonetheless we do just this, habitually, is the source of most of the empty prattle which infests the culture industry and blocks access to what it is necessary to know about art. For we need do little more now than to examine the difference -- the intrinsic difference -- between a poem and a painting to see that fundamentally similar criteria hold:

   (a) In my reading of the words I take note of certain clues
   and triggers implicit in their formal disposition. I say
   'implicit' in order to emphasise that this form is by no
   means an external imposition, but rather an 'enclosure' in
   Langer's sense, to establish an internal relational and
   symbolical context and to inhibit the 'leakage' of elements
   into this form from unwanted contexts. These clues, such as
   rhyme, rhythm, alliteration etc. are placed by the poet so
   that I, as a reader, by means of whatever skill I may bring
   to bear, will recreate in my mind what may have been in the
   poet's mind, his/her imaginative landscape and experience.
   (b) In my contemplation of a painting, I take note (often
   subconsciously, because it is partly an involuntary
   performance) of the visual clues and triggers contained in
   it, such as certain colour values, the incidence of light,
   the suggestion of movement etc. These are placed within the
   relational and symbolic enclosure of the picture to ensure
   their inner coherence, so that I, the beholder, may without
   distraction enter the imaginative context and see in the
   picture not merely the 'similitude', but the vibrancy of
   the light, the quivering of lines and curves, the balancing
   of weights and stresses, thereby to have an imaginative
   (rather than 'mimetic') grasp of eyes, smiles, gestures,
   attitudes, moods etc. and allow them to rouse an echo in my
   mind of how these often commonplace elements connect to the
   larger canvas of the whole of humanity and its entanglement
   with temporality, mortality and the root experiences which
   comprise the basic texture of human lives.
For the time being, bearing present space constraints in mind, this must suffice; although I believe there is enough here to warrant re-examining sundry key notions in aesthetic and critical literature which have hardened into cliche and prejudice. Let me offer a few conclusions as pointers towards a more adequate involvement with the subject of art than continued reliance on a model of 'artworks qua objects'.

   1. Works of art are embedded in an imaginative dimension:
   as such, they are tokens of human creativity which is not a
   material characteristic, but part of our mental/ spiritual
   2. Accordingly the structure given to works of art,
   irrespective of their modality, is such as to facilitate
   recreation in the imagination of their beholder.
   3. It is not unexpected or exceptional that imaginative
   structures require embodiment in a material medium.
   Excepting person-to-person communication, all cognitive and
   imaginative human discourse requires some such medium for
   its transmission.
   4. As a consequence of our sensory constitution, only
   cognitive states are (presumably) dispensed from nerve
   conduction. Therefore it is (again) not unexpected to find
   works of art being accommodated to the various sensory
   modalities which also serve us for pleasure-and-pain
   oriented perceptions.
   5. The specific context of Point 4 invites us to note the
   diabolical confusions engendered by the term 'aesthetic'.
   As commonly used, it claims the hedonic function as primary
   and thus leaves itself out on a limb with respect to
   meaning. But the foregoing suggests that this a
   back-to-front perspective: that 'meaning' is primary and
   the hedonic/aesthetic component part of the transmission
   circuit. (Cf. Postscript, below).
In a recent article on Death (Philosophy Pathways Issue 57) I made a claim for human creativity in terms of 'metaphysical rebellion' against the entropical constitution of the matter universe. Imaginative structures, brought into being as creations of the mind and capable of continuous existence as mind structures across many generations, are 'entropy free', i.e. they do not consume energy or raw materials and are not therefore part of the matter in the universe. On the other hand, decorative and derivative work (recall the poster example) are 'entropy-intensive', because they are made of matter and for matter purposes, caught in the phrases 'amusement', 'embellishment' and 'consumption'.

This argument leaves us with a definition of works of art as metaphysical objects, namely as embodiments of such values as truth, beauty, faith, justice, love etc., all which are denizens of the metaphysical partition of universe and thereby exempted from membership among the clan of objects qua objects. Works of art are objects because we need some vessel to hold an imaginative vision together and facilitate its recreation from time to time; but this does not allow us to infer that this object status touches its inner core.

We are today, all of us, deluged by images: all of them objects and in their sheer quantity guaranteed to blunt our sense for whatever little meaning any of them may possess. To rescue the imagery of art from this cataclysm is no small matter, and this is to my mind as good a reason as any to be as severe with ourselves as we can in the resolution of the dilemma which I have discussed in the foregoing. For there is no doubt whatever, as I hope to have shown, that the 'object mentality' which we habitually bring to bear on our interaction with the arts, is inimical to genuine understanding and therefore provides a smoothed-out path for its descent into perdition. As long as we cling to this 'aesthetic', we will be gazing at works of art as at strangers in our midst, with hardly an advantage over the Martian who may justifiably fail to comprehend what we see in these funny splotches of colour on strips of ordinary canvas. We may indeed need to ask ourselves whether we really know ourselves?


To pre-empt a possible accusation that I purposely ignore the powerful sensual impact of works of art to push this barrel of mine, I append here the subsidiary point that all art forms ultimately derive from the impulse for beautification, which is unmistakably alive in all of us and has been ever since the days of Homo Erectus, in the dimmest reaches of prehistory. Accordingly, at whatever juncture in this evolution the spirit of art began pressing for an outlet, it was possibly a foregone conclusion that it would 'hitch a ride' on the same existing and functionally adequate sensory modalities. It can safely be admitted, without contradiction from any of the foregoing, that desire for beauty is a close kin to passion; but passion has in addition to its sensual also a cognitive dimension, exemplified in the 'passion for truth', which may drive us into the arms of religion or philosophy... or art. While therefore I readily acknowledge the importance of a sensual component among the values of art, it can be said that it is an aspect well appreciated -- too much perhaps, for it is readily subsumed under an 'object mentality' and therefore apt to block appreciation of those aspect discussed here.

(c) Jurgen Lawrenz 2003




Refugee Academics

There are so many tragedies hiding behind the figures for refugee returns, that it seems, as several newspapers said to me, that there is really nothing 'newsworthy' about them. But behind the statistics are real people and real stories. Here is one, of a philosopher, that I would like to bring to the attention of the concerned networks of the Council for Refugee Academics, of Philosophy Pathways and more generally too, if newspapers will permit.

The Case of Zura Shiolashvili, Philosopher

Zura Shiolashvili is a writer and philosopher from the former Soviet republic of Georgia who fled to the UK in June this year. Readers of the respected Journal the Philosopher will know him as the author of a particularly gentle and humanistic piece on the power of the philosophical aphorism. Other writings have appeared in the New York Review and in Georgia's national independent newspaper, the Echo and Tbiliselebi. These have been much praised, both for their style and their content. Unfortunately, a critical account of the ruling Georgian elite in Tbiliselebi brought increased dangers and in June this year Zura fled to the UK where he imagined to find security and freedom to pursue his writings and thought.

As editor of the Philosopher Journal, for which Zura is an assistant editor advising on literary philosophy, I enjoyed regular email and occasional telephone correspondence with him. On returning to the UK this month myself, I arranged to meet him for discussions over lunch in London on Thursday. On Wednesday, I received the following email.

   >Hello Mart,
   >Today evening they are going to transfer me from London. I
   >don't remember the name of the city,though I asked them to
   >leave me here until I get the answer from the Home Office -
   >it is about a week or a bit more for the answer, but they
   >are really heartless and blockhead people, they are
   >responsible for accommodation in a hotel for refugee called
   >'Helpline' - I asked their manager you are helpline or
   >enemyline? In two hours will be clear if I can stay here. I
   >will do all that I can do to meet you, but I will send a
   >message for this matter.
Surely in these few unrehearsed words is much of the tragedy of the many asylum seekers who arrive in foreign lands expecting to find concern and enlightenment, but are instead minced in an impersonal bureaucratic machine concerned not so much with human life as political expediency. And worse, how reminiscent is the asylum seekers plight, in the fear of the knock on the door, of the worst kinds of ethnic cleansing and totalitarianism.

Zura's background is one of struggle to express his philosophy in a climate hostile to such freedoms. For most of the 1980s he studied in a monastery. Until recently he worked in a media organisation in Tbilisi as an administrator and wrote largely unpaid where and when he could.

Zura's claim is that he has a well-founded conviction that both his own and his family's safety would be endangered if he continued to express his dissident religious and political opinions. At the moment he is being held in detention camp in Kent. Please if you can write to the Home Office quoting his reference number: HO 51181853 (Interview date: 13 May 2003) and ask the UK government to remember and respect its obligations to those unable to pursue their beliefs in other counties.

The full text of Zura's article for the Philosopher can be found at: http:---

In his words there:

   Embroidery of each word with the thread of truth provides
   us not only with a supply of meaning to mediate on, but
   physically impacts on our feelings, making us more humane.
   In the emptiness of consciousness with the image of
   thoughts, it sparks such a beauty that before it the whole
   brightness of materialism is seen to be worthless.
   Answers to questions connected with the spirit and its
   values too often leave a distinct emptiness in the heart,
   and the reason for this emptiness is the superficiality of
   these answers. Imperfect, they are unable to exist long.
   In this way aphorisms claim to be to be the beautiful
   answer for the replenishment of this emptiness.
Martin Cohen, 30 May 2003


Editor 'The Philosopher' Journal of the Philosophical Society of England Website: http:---



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