• Moliere
    1.4k
    Let me first note that I am an ignoramus when it comes to Merleau-Ponty. The amount of times he has been cited on these forums, and some pleasant prodding from friends, has made me finally pick up the Primacy of Perception. In it, while the comment seems somewhat off the main thrust from the main point of this particular talk, I found a wonderful quote that spoke directly to me in my reflections about the relationship between philosophy and the practical problems of life.

    Before taking this up, let us say a word about the other objection which was addressed to us: you go back to the unreflected; therefore you renouce reflection. It is true that we discover the unreflected. But the unreflected we go back to is not that which is prior to philosophy or prior to reflection. It is the unreflected which is understood and conquered by reflection. Left to itself, perception forgets itself and is ignorant of its own accomplishments. Far from thinking that philosophy is a useless repetition of life I think, on the contrary, that without reflection life would probably dissipate itself in ignorance of itself or in chaos. But this does not mean that reflection should be carried away with itself or pretend to be ignorant of its origins. By fleeing difficulties it would only fail in its task.

    I gather that the paragraph's meaning depends a great deal on Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, but even by itself it just struck a note with me that I thought it worth sharing.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    A coworker of mine recently posted a link to an 'upworthy article' ( Upworthy is basically Buzzfeed meets chicken soup for the soul, if you don't know it.) It used riding a bike as a metaphor for life. The more speed you have the easier it is to steer, was the idea. But my reflexive reaction was 'man, but sometimes you gotta hop of the bike to stay sane.' Philosophy for me has always been assosciated with control (not in the sense of controlling another but of having some modicum of mastery over my own thoughts and experience. So, self control, I guess. But the term seems misleading. for me at least, my thoughts seem less like a stream emanating from me and more like an assailing barrage. Learning how to structure and order them gives me some defense ).

    I'm currently (returning to) reading Globes - Spheres Vol 2 by Peter Sloterdijk (hard to summarize but sooooo good. The author has hilariously described his trilogy as the book Heidegger should have written instead of Being and Time. He was half-joking but I think he's right. I'm just shy of calling it my fave work of philosophy) and your MP passage reminds me of one of his. But in a way that gives me pause. The passage is about Medieval spherical models of God
    One of the essential figures of the divine light is that it continually augments and perfects itself through reflexive or returning beams, which is why every "outward" light journey must have a corresponding, varyingly symmetrical "homeward" journey; this was developed with due formality in Neoplatonic reflection. Hence the primal light not only plunges centrifugally into the immeasurable and irretrievable from its first point of emission, but returns home - in an eternal conservative revolution - from a precisely determined turning point to its source[...] It is beyond doubt that without this harboring reflection, the rays sent out by him would dissapear into a homecoming-less "bad" infinity and never return to the point [...] In [Nicolas of Cusa's model of the cosmos] the outermost ring is described as "confused chaos": a region in which the emanations of the light center have become so attenuated that they no longer have any formal effects on the substance — Sloterdijk

    This seems very closely connected to the MP quote, to the extent where the latter could perhaps be genealogically explained by reference to mutations of the old model - whereby the thought of god becomes the thought of thought. Idk exactly, maybe not.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    A person's use of the royal "we" always worries me. It strikes me as particularly worrying when used by someone to respond to criticism.

    I would hope that the paragraph's meaning can be explained by a review of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, because it doesn't make much sense to me standing alone. How he--or is the they?--discovers the un-reflected is unclear to me, nor do I understand how the un-reflected is prior to reflection and also understood by and conquered by reflection (the un-reflected being required to exist, it would seem, before being understood and conquered, and so necessarily existent before it is reflected upon). We can speak of perception forgetting itself and being ignorant of its own accomplishments only if we likewise forget that perception isn't something that can forget or are ignorant of that fact.

    Perhaps he means something along these lines: For much of the time, we don't think in the manner we do when we are reflecting about something. This doesn't mean we shouldn't reflect, however. In fact, we should.

    That seems a very sensible position to take.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    Maybe MP's 'we' is a self-aggrandizing reaction to narcissistic injury, but, tbh, I think it's reallly hard to say unless you know:
    (1)What's going on in the original French
    (2)How the French usage of such formalities differs from English usage in general - & more specifically:
    (3) The linguistic conventions French academics are expected to adhere to when giving talks about their work.

    So, for instance, I'd probably suspect a person who exclusively used the passive voice of having near sociopathic issues with accepting responsibility. But exclusive use of the passive voice is exactly what I expect when reading scientific writing.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    You're right. I have wondered whether problems with translation result in confusion and misunderstanding, but perhaps not often enough.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    In the original, Heidegger never mentions being! Most of his books are just intricate grumblings about faulty traffic lights and the price of rice in Leipzig.

    I think the passage does make a lot more sense when seen in the light (heh) of MP's general project. So MP is responding here to those critics who champion 'reflection' and believe MP has not given it it's due. "Reflection" here has a specifically idealist or logical positivist connotation. Through reflection one moves from the world of mundane & illusory appearance to crisp concepts and ideas (or to true propositions or judgements about the world.) Reflection gives us things like the pythagorean theorem and true scientific statements about the boiling point of water. These sorts of things, for MP's critics, are the truest truths

    The reason ppl down with this view criticize MP is because his schtick is kinda British Empiricism meets Husserl. He believes, like Hume, that perception grounds the truths derived from 'reflection' and not the other way round. The 'discovery' of the unreflected involves a lot of experiments, showing that spontaneous accounts of how we perceive the world don't actually jive with what happens. (MP actually has quite a bit in common with the modern popular cognitive scientist. His works are riddled with concrete experiments and findings.) What's 'discovered' is not the unreflected per se but all the strange and interesting ways perception works which you'd never notice unless you think about - and play around with - it. (For instance, most people have no idea how limited their visual field actually is. It just seems as though we're aware of vast spaces, entire rooms. But various experiments can be used to demonstrate to oneself just how limited that field is. It then becomes clear that our sense of vast spaces is a product of an active darting-around of the eyes, a darting-around which is quick enough to generate the illusion of a much larger field. By attending to perception itself rather than ideas and propositions derived from it, we learn more about how we perceive. We return from reflection, that is, to an enriched idea of the unreflective. )
  • Ciceronianus the White
    728
    I must admit that now and then I think it's possible that some, at least, of my dislike of Heidegger may be due to poor translations--a terrifying thought. If he really never mentions "Being" in his work, I can't help feel unnerved,

    But I think it's quite true that for the most part we live our lives without reflecting, thinking, at all. As Dewey once said, we only think when faced with problems (broadly defined as including any situation we find unsatisfactory and want to correct). Otherwise, we act out of habit and otherwise exist and experience in an unreflecting manner, and no doubt our attention is unfocused. So if that's what MP is getting at, then I think he has a point.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    Those are definitely strong echoes of one another! And I agree with you when you say "sometimes you just have to get off the bike" -- actually, kind of an interesting (accident?) when considering Wittgenstein's analogy that (perhaps, in his mind, bad) philosophy disengages the gears of language.

    And I would say, just to further what I took away from the quote at least, that in getting off the bike, when you get back on you gain a deeper appreciation for what you may have been able to continue doing without stopping, but without that added layer of understanding.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    It might be better for me to just say what I took away from the passage, I think, considering that I wouldn't be able to do justice to MP by any stretch of the imagination.

    As I see it, there's a problem in trying to understand the relationship between philosophy and what we (ought?) do in our lives, and vice-versa. How can, if philosophy explores questions about being, etc., this possibly influence our lives, and if philosophy is concerned with such questionings then how can our lives possibly influence philosophy? For my part I don't really find myself feeling skeptical that these things aren't related, so the question of how rings more prominent.

    What I took away from the passage, then, was that these are in a sense different from one another but related by way of how living our lives after they have been reflected upon differs from simply living a life which we have not reflected upon. So reflection is a kind of action, but it is the sort of action which -- as long as it is not taken as an end unto itself (we must return to other actions) -- affects our other actions qualitatively. After having reflected we can't go back to a state of "ignorance", though we probably also will not, in living our daily lives, also not keep a host of principles and arguments at hand to tackle the daily.

    So we might use Hume, for example, when he asks what the point of all of his arguments were if they were to conclude something so obscure that it would be impossible for him to apply his conclusions to daily life. But surely, at least I can attest, the way I would think about drawing conclusions differed after reading Hume than before even if I wasn't following along with his notions of necessary connection and so forth.


    I think the quote just struck home with me because it elucidates clearly where the proper place for each -- philosophical reflection and practical action -- lies.
  • YIOSTHEOY
    76


    I have pretty much had time to reflect upon everything, and make mental lists about them too.

    I cannot say that there exists anything unreflected for me.

    What is there that is unreflected for you?

    And why have you not reflected upon it yet? No time? Fear? No analytical tools?
  • YIOSTHEOY
    76


    I have even reflected on all that.

    What we OUGHT to do in/with our lives is that which we are GOOD AT which is also in demand by someone else on this Earth.

    I was always good at math, so I landed in corporate financial consulting. Got the B.S., got the M.S., and went to work for one of the really big firms, then after 5 years on into industry producing things.

    In a perfect world, everyone is productive somehow. This is because we all need to eat, we all need to clothe, we all need to shelter, we all need transportation, we all need health care, we all need education and training, we all need community and national defense because the world is such an evil place, and society has needs that must be filled everywhere.

    So productivity is the ultimate requirement of all.

    A lot of historic philosophers have lived on their trust funds, so they did not need to do anything. But this is an unfortunate (for society) anomaly because such a person is not very productive and as such is just a parasite on the whole community.

    Q.E.D.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    I don't think I would know what I have not reflected upon, for the moment that I said I had not reflected upon it -- I would have at least thought about how it could use some more thinking. And, likewise, I think your question of "Why?" could only be answered after the fact of my realizing that I hadn't reflected on some topic.

    I am sure there are sundry topics, thoughts, opinions, and so forth that haven't crossed my mind. I would say that's the case for most everybody, but you say you have nothing which is unreflected. How do you ascertain that?
  • YIOSTHEOY
    76
    , so what have you concluded is best for you yourself to do with your life then?
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    So far? I am rather fond of gardening. And cooking. And labor politics. I do those things.
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