• 180 Proof
    13.8k
    @Jack Cummins (re: the OP)

    From p. 1 of this thread ...
    Tell me/us why "exoteric" philosophy is not sufficient or in principle, if not practice, fails to do what it sets out to do.180 Proof
    i.e. What does "esoterica" significantly add (or subtract) that "exoterica" is missing in philosophy?

    :chin:

    Also this post, Jack ...
    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/comment/877179
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    I used the term 'esoterica', which is a rather vague one, as used in the magazine published by the Theosophical Society. But, in relation to your question of the esoteric as opposed to exoterica, it may come down to a different framework for philosophy. The esoteric is often based on spiritual teachings for development of disciples on a specific path. The exoteric, is in contrast, based on a set of teachings which are aimed at the social organisation.

    The underlying difference is an emphasis or focus, which may raise more questions about the social construction of knowledge. It is likely that the people who see themselves as the initiates or disciples see the ideas as being more about a quest or way to 'truth', as a serious focus in life. When this is levelled down to the esoteric it probably gets watered down to a structure for social conventions and norms.

    In relation to this thread, it may come down to examining the validity of ideas and themes in the esoteric traditions. There is still an interest in the esoteric in spirituality and religion. However, it is slightly separate from philosophy in some ways, which has followed the trends of academic science. Nevertheless, a lot of important ideas and developments had their roots in forms of esoteric traditions. So, it may be whether Western and Eastern esoteric traditions has anything important and significant for thinking in the Twentieth first century for the scope of the philosophical imagination or not?
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    1.8k


    i.e. What does "esoterica" significantly add (or subtract) that "exoterica" is missing in philosophy?

    I was actually going to make a thread on just this subject. I think that, as we try to get more precise and definite in our language, we can begin to lose our grasp on a description. In part, I think this has to do with our cognitive limitations. There is only so much information we can consume at once. We rely on compression to understand complex ideas, and this in turn means that we rely on a partially subconscious understanding of terms that we do not fully "unpack" in consciousness. E.g., if you have studied "Hegel's dialectical" you don't need to fully unpack what it entails to evaluate passages mentioning it.

    What seems like obscurity, or poetry, then, can be a means of communicating a more dynamic message. We can communicate things that, if we tried to be more definite, would be lost in an avalanche of detail. For example, I could describe my son's water bottle to you as "orange and deep blue, with little sharks with space helmets on floating around in space on it." You don't have a great idea what it looks like, but you have the essentials. If I tried to describe it without referring to the dynamic whole, i.e. that it is a water bottle of such and such color, and rather turned to describing minutia,listing off the hex codes of the various colors used, etc. you might have no idea what sort of object I was even describing.

    So much milage can be made out of obscure thinkers like Heraclitus because their poetic style is very dynamic. Similarly, Dante can communicate a wonderful picture of medieval philosophy that is enhanced by its poetic nature.

    Heisenberg had a similar sort of intuition re language that he tried to set down.

    As Heisenberg describes the basic problem in his 1942 manuscript, science translates reality into thought, and humans need language to think. Language, however, suffers from the same fundamental limitation that Heisenberg discovered in nature. We can focus our language down to highly objective degrees, where it becomes particularly well defined and hence useful for scientists studying the natural world. But to the extent we do so, we necessarily lose another essential aspect of words, namely, their ability to have multiple meanings depending on how we use them.

    The first nature of language Heisenberg calls static, and the second, dynamic. While all humans use language at varying points along these spectrums, physicists exemplify the static use, while poets exemplify the dynamic use. Where scientists very much depend on the static quality of words for their ability to pin down exact descriptions of their objects of study, they do so at a cost: “What is sacrificed in ‘static’ description is that infinitely complex association among words and concepts without which we would lack any sense at all that we have understood anything of the infinite abundance of reality.” As a result, precisely insofar as perceiving and thinking about the world depend on coordinating both aspects of language, a “complete and exact depiction of reality can never be achieved.”

    William Egginton - The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality

    I would just add that bandwidth is also an issue here. You can't hold a long description all in your mind at once. Poetics help with compression.
  • 0 thru 9
    1.5k


    :100: :clap: :smile: Couldn’t have said it any better than both of your responses!
  • Chet Hawkins
    82
    I am sorry that I do not quote in my replies. It is because it does not seem possible on my particular model of phone. I would probably need to be able to connect it to a mouse, like on a laptop. Also, your answers are good insofar as they are detailed but make many varying points so I would probably feel I need to make more than one post to address them. Saying that, I hope that my posts don't come across as totally lacking, as I do see writing on a forum.as being different to fuller forms of writing. Some write extremely short replies and I tend towards neither extremes.Jack Cummins
    Your posts are fine. Yeah, I tried to figure a way to help you quote on a phone, but, the infrastructure to support good quoting is not on this site, as far as I can tell. There should be a ctrl key combination that means 'highlight for a quote everything in this single post'. That is sorely needed. Another function that is needed is a sub-thread list follow function. It would be another ctrl key sequence that first found your first post in a thread and then with repeated presses following any and all replies to that chronologically within the thread. I am a developer with 40 years of experience now. I know the functions a very good app needs to be effective because I use so many apps and get so very very frustrated with them.

    I think forum writing for most is most often fairly weak, almost like facebook or social media posts. I am not attacking you, but, really addressing the points in a dialogue has its BEST incarnation in forums. There is no better place to get detailed. You are not going to wrote a book of dialogues, and if you do, you would start with an online forum to collect them. Malkovich, Malkovich!

    As far as Hegel and the idea of the imminent I think that there is an ambiguity in how he views it. In some ways, he leans towards naturalism but not in the way that most people do in the Twentieth First century and that is probably a reflection of his own historic context. He was leading the way in coming out of grand metaphysical dramas and schemes but was prior to the paradigm of current scientific thinking. In this, he was involved in a process of demystification but this picture was only just starting to appear. Since then, it has become far more prominent with so many shifts backwards and forwards in many ways.Jack Cummins
    I get it, but, none of what you said invalidates or makes a strong point for imminent not meaning a focus on the present tense. So, if there is some other meaning I missed, let me know.

    I get it that anger, the present tense emotion, the emotion of imminent intent, staying present, being, is denying desire-side chaos puzzles of imagination. Imagination is desire side effort. So, of course, part of anger demands that we should not want. Wanting is for someone that unwisely believes that we do not have infinite free will. Wanting is for someone that believes they are insufficient unto themselves. The reflection of desire is thus worthlessness. This is a law of nature.

    So, I get it that Hegel used the concept of the imminent to fight off mystery and mysticism's self-indulgent dramas.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    My take away from your reply to my question, Count, is that @Jack Cummins' (& @Wayfarer's) "esoterica" do not make any non-trivial differences in contemporary philosophy (i.e. reflectively reasoning about the enabling-constraints, or limits, of reasoning (to the best, or most probative, questions which we (still) do not know how to answer (re: aporias))). So far on this thread I've not found a convincing or even interestingly intelligible case made to the contrary.

    IME, philosophizing is like playing Chess (or Go) in which critical paths (i.e truths) are only "hidden" in plain sight by the dialectics of complementary & oppositional moves; thus, IMO, there aren't any "mysteries", just intractable uncertainties (i.e. ineffable / unanswerable questions) for us to play out (or reason together about). For me, Count, talk of "hidden knowledge" "spirituality" "poetry" "the whole at a glance" "mystical" etc with respect to philosophy (as per the OP) confuses and mystifies rather than clarifies, or makes explicit (i.e. problematizes), what we are actually doing when we philosophize (as per e.g. freethought ... Spinoza, Hume ... Witty, Dewey ... Q. Meillassoux), that is, I think, dialectically proposing 'rational-critical suppositions' which are, as much as possible, free of dogmatic cant, pseudo-science sophistry & occulting mystagoguery. :sparkle: :eyes: :mask:
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k


    We can focus our language down to highly objective degrees, where it becomes particularly well defined and hence useful for scientists studying the natural world. But to the extent we do so, we necessarily lose another essential aspect of words, namely, their ability to have multiple meanings depending on how we use them.

    Great answer. In fact, we don't just lose the complexity of words, we lose touch with the complex-totality of the reality upon which words are based. Esoterica are one way we have of preserving the ineffable that for the moment exceeds our grasp. Perhaps until such time as deeper understanding and experience cloaks them in more familiar garb.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    As far as forum writing goes, it is so different from so many other forms. The reason why I have used this forum is because I find that the dialogue with so many people throughout the world makes it so good. When I was on academic courses, there was less, or a different kind of intensity. I never really achieved any clarity of thinking. I still find it hard to pin down a particular perspective above all, but I do find that, in conjunction with my own reading, engagement with TPF enables me to analyse my own thinking more critically.

    The idea of the imminent may be about the present primarily; it may correspond with Eckart Tolle's argument about time, in which amidst the perception of past, present, and future, it is only possible that perceive in the present 'now' consciousness. Both ideas of past and future may be a potential for both romanticism and fear. The scope of eternity may also be seen as being about a static achievement while a sense of eternity as immanence may involve a contemplative picture of blending in with the endless aspects of life and its flow. It may be a way of seeing beyond desire itself.
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    IMO, there aren't any "mysteries", just intractable uncertainties (i.e. ineffable / unanswerable questions) for us to play out (or reason together about) ...
    occulting mystagoguery.
    180 Proof

    Perhaps the latter is the result of unreasonable expectations about the former. As if by asking a question there must then be an answer. The natural sense of awe and wonder is lost. Replaced by artifactual realms beyond and a desire for escape and transcendence.
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    Perhaps the latter is the result of unreasonable expectations about the former. As if by asking a question there must then be an answer. The natural sense of awe and wonder is lost. Replaced by artifactual realms beyond and a desire for escape and transcendence.Fooloso4

    So it seems to me.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    Your post raises the whole question of what is trivial and what is not in the understanding of life. The approach of the esoteric or exoteric may or not be important here, as it is such a wide area of exploration and interpretation.

    My own slant on this was that my initial divergences from Catholicism were the more with esoteric thought as a way of going beyond literalism. Esotericism was also a way of going beyond the fundamentalism of many other religious ideas. I did begin to have many conversations with an atheist friend and could also the validity of thinking beyond God or spiritual perspectives, and my thinking does shift a lot.

    The question of mysteries or philosophy as a game of chess is an interesting metaphorical question. Ancient thinkers often emphasised mysteries, going back to the development of Egyptian thinking and mystery schools. In the present time, the idea of mystery may seem strange. I probably do gravitate towards the idea of mystery, as I once wrote a thread on whether philosophical mysteries can be solved at all, focusing on the idea of God, life after death and free will. Such ideas are answered so subjectively because there is no proof. How much one sees mystery as a complete open arena for imagination or just a little bit of a gap may vary, and the tension between the esoteric and exoteric aspects of thinking. The esoteric traditions are more inclined to come from a contemplative approach, in line with the awe and wonder of the ancients. Chess as a game and art involves cleverness and the quality seen as smart thinking. However, there is a danger that it can become too superficial a matter of cleverness, or rhetoric. Most probably, my own perspective is that we need both awe and wonder and smartness for philosophy to be an in depth quest for understanding life. I am not wishing to suggest that your own approach is superficial as I know that you have read widely and in depth.

    I guess that I see the area of the esoteric as an important area for getting to grips with essential recurrent themes. Of course, it is possible to skip over the division between the esoteric and exoteric, just as the differences between Western and Eastern thought don't have to be a specific point of focus.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    ... unreasonable expectations ... As if by asking a question there must then be an answer.Fooloso4
    :up: :up:
  • Janus
    15.3k
    What facts or metaphysical truths can it guarantee? If you think there are such facts or truths, how does it guarantee them?
    — Janus

    Perhaps the challenge is knowing in the face of uncertainty, in other words, belief. For me, the notion of spirituality aligns precisely with the noumenon-phenomenon (mind-body) problem and is to that extent "de-mystified", although it is still mysterious. Yes, we can have some certainties of the material world, which are in a sense trivial. These form the framework of our human existence, the stage whereupon we live our lives. And those human truths are not so easily acquired or proven. And of course, when human knowledge has reached a high level of sophistication, we begin to discover that the so-called simple truths of the material world are not themselves straightforward, when we finally reach the horizons of the quantum and the cosmic.

    In the human body, muscles work in opposing pairs. And the ultimate strength of any muscle is always limited by the weakness of its antagonist partner. I conceive the mind (spirit) matter dyad to be like that. Indeed, all knowledge. Hence the power of dialectic.

    Such understanding ranges from the comprehension of the babblings of children to Hamlet or the Critique of Pure Reason. From stones and marble, musical notes, gestures, words and letters, from actions, economic decrees and constitutions, the same human spirit addresses us and demands interpretation. (Dilthey, The Rise of Hermeneutics)
    Pantagruel

    I missed this response of yours earlier.

    In your first sentence you seem to suggest that belief is, or at least can be, knowledge. I can see a sense in which belief might be thought to be a kind of knowledge: our beliefs constitute lenses through which we experience and understand, that is, know, the world. But that is the knowing of acquaintance, familiarity, not the kind of propositional knowing I had in mind when I asked the question.

    It's not clear to me on what basis you think the noumenon-phenomenon "problem" is equivalent to the "mind/ body problem". For me the former just represents the limits of our knowledge and as such is not a problem, but a demarcation or delimitation.

    The absolute nature of things is an intractable mystery in one sense, but in another it can simply be seen to be closed to us as a matter of definition: that is that we cannot by mere definition see beyond our perceptions, experience and the judgements that evolve out of those. Anything that we project into that "absolute" space must be confabulation.

    "The simple truths of the material world" and "the quantum and the cosmic" are all of them firmly in the domain of the empirical and the logical; they cannot transport us beyond the realm of our own experience and imagination.

    Of course we can, via imagination and dialectical reasoning, conceive of matter and spirit in various ways, but none of that constitutes intersubjectively decidable knowledge.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    [T]he limits of our knowledge and as such is not a problem, but a demarcation or delimitation. The absolute nature of things is an intractable mystery in one sense, but in another it can simply be seen as a matter of definition: that is that we cannot by mere definition see beyond our perceptions, experience and the judgements that evolve out of those. Anything that we project into that space must be confabulation.Janus
    :100: :up: :up:

    ... esoteric thought as a way of going beyond literalism. Esotericism was also a way of going beyond the fundamentalism of many other religious ideas [ ... ] focusing on the idea of God, life after death and free will. Such ideas are answered so subjectively because there is no proof. Jack Cummins
    Have you ever considered the 'left-handed' school, or counter-tradition, of freethinking in philosophy (a wiki link is below)? Once the insight had struck me that "answers" were mosty just questions' way of generating more questions, I finally gave up the "religious" pursuit of "answers" (and stopped titling at windmills!) for philosophizing – reasoning to the best, or most probative, questions – only about what natural beings (encompassed by nature and with limited natural capacities) can learn about nature – and therefore about how to flourish. :fire:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freethought

    NB: Also consider both the Buddhist Parable of the Poisoned Arrow and Epicurean Tetrapharmakon as ancient examplars, East and West respectively, of questions of flourishing (i.e. eudaimonia) in spite of a perennial lack of "answers to mysteries" ...

    :death: :flower:
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    The movement of freethinking is a useful one, in spite of its link with freemasonry. As far as the idea of flourishing despite the presence of mysteries, it is important because there is the opposite danger of becoming unable to do so.

    The worst possibility is to become so burdened by the nature of philosophical problems as to be incapacitated or dysfunctional. At an an extreme point, it would be possible to become so overwhelmed as if one needed answers in order to live. This may defeat the purpose of life as a quest rather than as a solution. It is not as if answers can always be found and this not mean that the questions are not worth asking, for generating creativity.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    The worst possibility is to become so burdened by the nature of philosophical problems as to be incapacitated or dysfunctional. At an an extreme point, it would be possible to become so overwhelmed as if one needed answers in order to live.Jack Cummins
    Do you fear becoming "overwhelmed" by particular questions or inquiry as such?
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    At the moment, I don't feel overwhelmed by questions, and the actual existential aspects of life are greater. However, there have been times in which I was in the past, especially when working night shifts. I used to agonise and, generally, I find that night thinking is more fear based. But, saying that, I do really enjoy philosophy and the exploration of new ways of seeing and framing 'reality'. The mysteries themselves are part of the adventure.
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    But that is the knowing of acquaintance, familiarity, not the kind of propositional knowing I had in mind when I asked the question.Janus

    It is the knowing of things that by their nature or current status resist propositional knowledge. The fact that you reject this kind of knowledge in favour of propositional is perhaps the problem. Since that's the gist of the OP I'll just reiterate my response.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    I do really enjoy philosophy and the exploration of new ways of seeing and framing 'reality'. The mysteries themselves are part of the adventure.Jack Cummins
    I suspect one person's "mysteries" (pace G. Marcel) are another person's misconceptions ... or false positives (D. Dennett) or nostalgias (A. Camus).
  • bert1
    1.8k
    One persons misconceptions are another person's blindness.

    One person's blindness is another person's wilful ignorance.

    One person's exit is another person's entrance.
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    :up: As your "misconcepttion" ... seems to demonstrate.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    Misconceptions and blindness may have variable effects for people, depending on circumstances and intention. Fantasies and delusions may inspire great acts and art and the worst atrocities at all. It may be questionable whether it is better to be blindly inspired or let down by the exposure of the secrets and lies or survive the exposure of raw harsh truths.

    The acts of martyrdom may not have been taken on without a belief in a literal afterlife. It is questionable whether many current thinkers would be prepared to die like Socrates. The exoteric quest is more in favour of the needs and rights of the ego and 'monkey mind', as opposed to the heavenly, or inner treasures and quest for 'truth'. And, of course, an atheist may be able to go 'through the eye of a needle' in the search for truth and, esoteric atheism is a possibility.
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    The acts of martyrdom may not have been taken on without a belief in a literal afterlife. It is questionable whether many current thinkers would be prepared to die like Socrates.Jack Cummins

    When in Plato's Phaedo Socrates says:

    ... all who actually engage in philosophy aright are practising nothing other than dying and being dead.
    (64a)

    this should be seen in light of what he said in the Apology:

    ...to be dead is one of two things: either the dead person is nothing and has no perception of anything, or [death] happens to be, as it is said, a change and a relocation or the soul from this place here to another place .
    (40c).

    Not knowing what will be, the focus of the philosophical life must be on the here and now. On living a good life, an examined life. If one lives a good life then there should be no fear of punishment if there happens to be a next life. But if dying is the end then we should not squander what is given to us by living in expectation of rewards that may never be.

    ...the heavenly, or inner treasures and quest for 'truth'.Jack Cummins

    The quest for truth cannot occur at some other time in some other place. One interpretation of the claim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand is that it is to be found within, here and now. To look elsewhere, away from oneself, is to turn away from where one's responsibilities lie and one's inner treasures are to be found.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    I find it hard to know how Socrates and Plato thought of immortality. I was taught by a tutor on the philosophy of religion that immortality may consist of life after death until a resurrection of 'the body at the end of the world. The tutor was a Christian, influenced by Plato.

    The idea of a 'heaven within' seems important in the interpretation of the Christian teaching, 'That it is easier for 'a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of God'. It is based on esoteric thinking although I was taught this in secondary Catholic school religious studies. Of course, it is in contrast to the exoteric wealth and splendour of the Vatican and the architecture of Rome.

    The idea of inner wealth of 'heaven within' is also captured in the Buddhist emphasis on nonattatchment. It is not the wealth itself which is being criticised ultimately, but the value being placed on material wealth as opposed to the treasure within'..
  • Fooloso4
    5.3k
    I find it hard to know how Socrates and Plato thought of immortality.Jack Cummins

    The fact of the matter is: they don't know, but there are serious problems that cast doubt on the possibility. As with Forms and particulars one is the difference between the Form Soul and the soul of an individual. Another is the difference between a person and his soul. Even if the soul is immortal that does not mean that the person is. In one formulation Socrates' death means the separation of body and soul. His soul can become the soul of something else (Phaedo 82a-b), but what would it mean for Socrates to become an ass?

    The idea of a 'heaven within' seems important in the interpretation of the Christian teaching,Jack Cummins

    There is no such thing as "the 'Christian teaching". There are various teaching within the NT, inspired teachings many of which were destroyed by the Church Fathers as heretical, and teaching that developed later such as the "official doctrines" determined by the Council of Nicaea. In addition there are the practices of esoteric interpretation and mystical Christian teachings.

    The idea of inner wealth of 'heaven within' is also captured in the Buddhist emphasis on nonattatchment.Jack Cummins

    I tend to stay away from such comparisons where similarities are pointed out and differences ignored. In addition there is the problem of translation. Terms such as 'heaven' are typically unduly inflluenced by Western Christian perspectives. I do not know enough to sort it all out and suspect that most others cannot either.
  • Jack Cummins
    5k

    I have read 'Phaedo' a few years ago and did read some of the thread on it on this forum, which I found helpful in thinking about the book.

    The entire idea of 'soul' is a very complex idea and used in such varying ways, including the question of the individual soul and beyond. I managed to think about it more clearly in relation to the transpersonal school of thought, including the ideas of Thomas More, which is more about the depths of human nature than a literal entity which survives as an individual construct.

    You are quite right to say that there are no clear Christian teachings because there are so many cross currents of thought, ranging from influences as diverse as Egyptian idea and the blending of ideas from Plato and Aristotle, such as in the thinking of Augustine and Aquinas, as well as ideas of Plotinus and many influences.

    It is probably wise to stay away from comparisons of Christianity and Buddhism which gloss over differences. I may have been influenced by such texts because I have read theosophical authors. Also, I probably dipped in and out of various Eastern texts in a rather chaotic manner, including those such as 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead'. In some ways, the academic study of the comparative religion is probably the most thorough. I did do a year of undergraduate studies in religious studies but that only covered the mere basics. Certainly, when studying Hinduism I was aware of the problems of translation and was at least fortunate to have a tutor who had studied Sanskrit.

    There is a danger of oversimplification and generalisations in approaching the various traditions. I am sure that this can result in some very confused thinking. I am sure that I have blended ideas together in a very haphazard way at times and it is easy to end up with some very strange conclusions, which may show the dangers of the speculative imagination in philosophy.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    It is the knowing of things that by their nature or current status resist propositional knowledge. The fact that you reject this kind of knowledge in favour of propositional is perhaps the problem. Since that's the gist of the OP I'll just reiterate my response.Pantagruel

    If you are not merely referring to know-how or to belief and the fact that our worldviews may to some degree change the way we actually live and perceive and judge the world, can you give me an example of such non-propositional knowledge?

    I don't know what "problem" you are referring to: is it perhaps the fact that I apparently disagree with you?

    Just to be clear, I don't favour the propositional over know-how or knowledge by acquaintance, or the ways in which our conceptions and beliefs may condition our experience and judgement, my argument all along has merely been that there is no intersubjectively decidable knowledge apart from the empirical and logical; the rest is subjective.

    Afficionados of esoterica generally don't want to admit that, though.
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    Afficionados of esoterica generally don't want to admit that, thoughJanus

    Believers in intuitive knowledge don't agree with your definition of knowledge. Correct. Propositional knowledge is a latecomer. Long, long before anyone ever had the notion that there was propositional knowledge people knew things. Every day people make decisions based on intuition and in the absence of adequate evidence. That's the nature of life. Propositional knowledge is inadequate.
  • Janus
    15.3k
    I don't deny that people make decisions based on intuitions: I do myself all the time. But firstly, I don't believe any intuitive (or propositional for that matter) knowledge is infallible, or context-independent, and secondly such "knowledge" is by its very nature personal, subjective.

    Those two conditions are what the "afficionados" do not wish to acknowledge in relation to so-called "higher" knowledge, if not in relation to personal intuitions.
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