Sunday, 30 September 2012

Bosch and Freud - on Art and Madness

The rise of Renaissance started in the Low Countries – called Flanders.  Great artists appeared as the representatives of the late medieval new thinkers.  The status of artist rose from those considered as craftsman – “Mechanic artist” to a respectable free thinker, imaginative creator – “liberal Artist”.

The first of such representative was Hieronymus Bosch whose paintings of demonic figures in the guise of religious themes displayed his unbridled fantasies of the bestiality and humanity, the corruption of both human and animals, in the chaos of the world – reflecting the period in history where clashes between various continents and ideology seemed to have come to the central stage of civilization in the 15th century.  The Turkish Ottoman Empire took over the Byzantine in the 11th century and occupied S.E.Europe, the Black Death wiped out half of the European population

Bosch, artist of the 15th century, marked a point of departure from the Dark Ages to the Age of Enlightenment.  As a northerner, with his typical dark imagination, enhanced by witch’s oil (a type of drug) he found his unique style of Gothic art – grotesque but realistic figures fornicating, gorging, binge drinking, defecating at the same time… The symbolism mingled with realistic figures created an exotic background evoking nightmarish scenes, which exist neither in “Paradise” nor in “hell”.

Freud said that man who is unhappy with reality tends to go on the path of “Regression” – hoping to reverse back to the childhood dreams in order to escape the reality and such a man becomes a neurotic individual… If he possesses artistic flair, he can transform this negative force into an ability of a genius to create great art works… 

Many people in the “Dark Ages” unhappy with the way of life resorted to heresy or hermitage or in silent self-reflection to seek answers in religious meditation.  Driven by fear or guilt, or feeling of insecurity, those who would be misfits in normal social life went on pilgrimage or retreated to deep forest in remote mountains.  Those who took refuge in austere monasteries on the top of Montserrat (Franco-Spanish border), away from the rest of the world, found solace in a life of poverty, and self-punishment.  But did they find “Redemption”?

Related post:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

More about 'proper philosophy', human nature and egoism

Amy writes:

Of course I do not want anything changed in our lovely meetings at the cafe-philo. But having heard on three occasions different people commenting that these were not 'proper' philosophical discussions, I was curious to know what such a discussion would be. My proposal was for a unique experiment just as we have had philosophy students talking to us once a year.

Is curiosity a specific feature of human nature? No, my cat was curious. Same with egoism (which we discussed at the last session). Like apes nowadays some prehistoric men did happily lend their nut-crushing stone, some not. But only man could use words to tell his friend whether it was worth or not asking for the loan. As language got refined an abstract concept of selfishness /generosity emerged which became more and more complex and imprecise as time passed. Sometimes, we discuss our various ethical topics as if there existed up there, where God resides, a big dictionary in which there is the definite definition of these various concepts and as if the only reason we cannot consult this dictioinary is that we are human, with very limited faculties. I believe that the only dictionaries in existence are the little ones handed to us by our parents, masters and friends which are slightly amended by each generation and each of us to suit our needs. Though the dictionaries of a given culture are very similar there are no two identical ones. Hence our lively discussions.

Of course it may be said that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was such universal dictionary. But all Adam and Eve learned from eating its fruit was that it was shameful to be seen gallivanting in the nude in the Garden of Eden (a piece of information for which they payed an outrageous price and anyhow how is it that it was OK before they ate the fruit?). As for the ten commandments, they are exactly that: commandments: thou shall, thou shall not. The only commandment worth discussing at the cafe-philo is honouring father and mother. What does honouring consist of?

I wonder what Moses would think of our discussions on the percentage of selfishness entering the motives of a man jumping in the water to save a stranger's life. But then was Moses a philosopher?

Friday, 14 September 2012

Is human nature essentially Egoistic or Altruistic?

Debate on 8/9/2012: what is Egoism?

Example 1: if you are climbing a mountain with a friend and a huge rock is falling towards you.  Do you expose yourself in order to shield your friend or do you run for your life and leave your friend in danger?  Suppose you are with your children in a similar situation, do you protect your children first or yourself first?

Example 2: Making blood donation, is it as an altruistic act or an egotistical act?  On the face of it, as blood donor does not gain anything from his action, so it is an act of pure charity. On the other hand, one may say that giving blood is to protect one’s own interest because one never knows that one day he may need blood transfusion himself when he is ill.

Example 3: Artists, writers and other personalities with great achievements often ignore their family or friends, so that they can concentrate on their creative works.  Their glory and fame often come later and compensate for the suffering they have caused to their friends and family.  Are they selfish people?

Example 4: Philosopher Kant is a passionate advocate of altruism. He asserts that a good will is the only intrinsically good thing and that an action is only good if performed out of duty, rather than out of personal need or pleasure.  Suppose if you are sick and one of your friends comes to see you, he says to you, ‘I come to see you out of my duty, it’s not for my pleasure.’  Do you regard him as your real friend?

Example 5: Ayn Rand’s novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has provoked huge reaction in the US and became one of the most popular novels in America.  The novel paints a dystopia where citizens refused to be exploited by over taxation and government regulations.  The story is to demonstrate that a world in which the individual is not free to create is doomed, that civilization cannot exist where every person is a slave to society and government.  The book has become a bible for the western model of individualism and libertarianism. So what does it prove? Triumph of Egoism?  However one must not confuse Egoism with Individualism.  Individualism does not denote utter selfishness while the former does.

The discussion was in French.  Apologies to Francophone readers.) 

Related post:
Forum: does Altruism exist?

Saturday, 8 September 2012

What are 'proper' philosophical questions?

Amy has a proposition to make:

I have heard it said a number of times that our discussions at the cafe-philo are not proper philosophical discussions. So I ask myself what is a proper philosophical discussion. And I get an idea:
  • First you would need to find out who are the 'proper' philosophers among the attendants of the cafe.  Would they have to declare themselves or be declared by Christian?
  • The 'proper' philosophers would propose the topics in the ordinary way, the whole assembly choosing the one they prefer.
  • The discussion would then be restricted to the 'proper' philosophers, except for the end of the session when the rest of us would discuss the propriety of the word 'proper' applied to philosophy as well as the topic itself.
That's my idea.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Does is make sense to talk about human nature?

(Debate on 1/9/2012) What do we know about human nature behind its mask? We often say it’s ‘human nature’ to be selfish, to be greedy, to be jealous, to be cruel, to be competitive, to be ambitious…  But is there any scientific base to prove that these are unique attributes of humanoid?

Human nature is incredibly complex.  The purpose of the discussion is to differentiate the nature of humanoid from the nature of other animals.  We can then determine whether we were created by God, or whether we were descendants of monkeys.

In contrast to the debate on religions and morality, several of our scientifically minded philosophers gave fascinating answers branching out to the studies of neurology, stem-cell research, and brain scans.  We discovered the shocking truth that Human Nature, in the age of genetic engineering, is edging towards a new stage on the evolution ladder of primates.  I wonder if we are heading towards a Brave New World as prophesied by Aldous Huxley, in which only Alpha and Beta the Super-human will still be natural born humanoid, while the rest, especially Epsilons will be reproduced as millions of duplicates spawn from one single egg, deliberately created with limited cognitive and physical abilities, so that they can be easily conditioned to perform simple and repetitive tasks. We have heard of the horror of Dolly the cloned sheep.  Brace ourselves for the invasion of Epsilon clones.

Thursday, 6 September 2012


Obscure / Experimental kicks off! The world consists of two kinds of people: those who have not seen Blade Runner, and those who have seen it more than once. Whichever category you belong to, join us to watch the Final Cut, the only version over...

18th September, 18.00 -22.00
By invitation only.