[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Xmca-l] Re: Spinoza on xmca

Probably the world's oldest naturalistic novel (in the sense of an
anti-Romance) is not Don Quixote, but an outrageously pornographic
philosophical treatise called Jin Ping Mei (after its three main
heroines). It was published sometime in the late Ming Dynasty, i.e.
before 1644, and nobody really knows who the author is, but he signs
himself   "the unserious scholar of Lanling" (nobody really knows were
Lanling was, but people think it was someplace in Shandong Province,
not that far from here).

Not the sort of thing that Spinoza would have written. But the Ethics
is concerned with the same sort of thing that "the unserious scholar
of Lanling" wrote: the vanity of worldliness, the fatuousness of
ambition, and of course the moral good of pleasure. More importantly,
Spinoza wrote the three words that really (in my opinion) began the
Enlightenment ("Deus Sive Natura"), words that could have been the
epigraph to Jin Ping Mei, since it too is concerned with the truths of
nature and the naturalness (as opposed to the unknowable nature) of

I think that the reason why Spinoza is controversial on this list has
to do with his solution of the mind-body problem. Andy has always
considered Spinoza's response inadequate by virtue of its extremism; a
kind of "cutting of the Gordian knot" rather than a trying to unravel
it. Descartes says minds are spirit stuff and bodies are another
matter, and never the twain to the meet, and Spinoza's answer is just
to say that everything in the world is made of sentient meat--some of
it may be more sentient (or perhaps we need to say POTENTIALLY more
sentient) and some of it less so, but everything has to at least
potentially have both ideality and materiality or it can't really
partake of reality to begin with (or anyway we cannot partake of its
reallity). This solution, it seems to me, makes good sense, and I
think it also made perfect sense to Vygotsky, and it's part of a long
tradition of anti-Aristotelian thinking that goes back at least as far
as Jean Buridan.

Vygotsky is quite interested in Buridan, and not just his famous
donkey (in HDHMF Vygotsky shows that he knows perfectly well that the
donkey was made up not by Buridan but by his Aristotelian enemies).
One reason is that Buridan appears to have been one of the first who
suggested that, contrary to what Aristotle thought (and contrary to
what English grammar suggests), the laws of nature were perfectly
determinate in the present and the future as well as in the past
(Aristotle considered the past fully determined but the present and
the future intrinsically indeterminate, because of free will). The
donkey was apparently an attempt by the Aristotelians to prove Buridan
wrong: since humans do not starve to death in a Buridan situation,
free will must exist, and therefore we really do live in two different
worlds: a fully determined past and an essentially unknowable

Spinoza, like Buridan, did believe that in any one situation there
was, from a strictly rationalist point of view, only one right course
of action (as in a game of chess, which as Von Neumann pointed out, is
not really a game at all but simply an unsolved calculation). This was
as true of moral and economic problems as it was of mathematical ones.
And Spinoza, like Buridan, argued that if the the right course of
action was unclear, the thing to do was to suspend judgment and keep
calculating until it became clear--and this is actually where Vygotsky
gets his epigraph for "Psychology of Art" ("No one has hitherto laid
down the limits to the powers of the body...").

Halliday insists on rendering grammatical choice as a set of
bifurcations or trifurcations--Buridan decisions which, taken one by
one, are manageable, and only in the their cumulative, synoptic result
seem inhumanely complex. And I think that one reason he insists on
this is that he insists on knowing not only how the whole system
works, but also how it could have come about, and above all why.

For example, when I first read:

"Ann came with a date and Bill without one".

I couldn't help thinking that Ann and Bill came together--poor Ann
thinking that Bill was her date and Bill, the lout, on the lookout for
a new one. The reason I can't help thinking such "unserious scholar of
Lanling" thoughts is that I, like Halliday, usually start from the
point of view that an utterance like this has to have some
point--there has to be some reason why "came" is elided. By eliding
"came", the hearer is left with the strong feeling that something is
missing on Bill's side of the equation. Such dramas do happen in real
life, and have done so since at least the Ming dynasty, but they don't
really seem to make it into grammar books.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

PS: Henry--I am an ELT person just like you (and I am within a decade
of retirement age, despite my unserious demeanour). So I understood
the reference to Krashen. But for most people on the list the name
Krashen either means nothing at all, or refers to an admirable
defendent of bilingual education in the state of California and not a
rather hidebound and rigid second language acquisition theorist whose
theory of language is straight Chomsky and whose theory of learning
and acquisition is straight Piaget.

The data I gave was data recorded by one of my graduates on her cell
phone during the first moments of her class. Most of my grads,
including this one, are non-native speakers of English.


On 7 September 2014 04:51, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:
> Hi Henry-- There goes my pile of books that need to be read before bed time!
> Spinoza goes up there right next to Dead Souls.
> However, David having already claimed the mantle of unserious scholar, and
> you having made the same claim, I am afraid that I have to make precisely
> the same claim on the unrefutable grounds that no one pays me any longer
> for what I do so I get to be as unserious as i can seriously be!
> mike
> On Sat, Sep 6, 2014 at 12:33 PM, Henry G. Shonerd III <hshonerd@gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Hi Mike,
>> All I can say now is that Spinoza is famously quoted as having said, "The
>> more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become
>> a lover of what is." This quote happens to appear in the introduction to a
>> very popular self help book, Loving What Is, by Byron Katie (2002). I
>> bought the book , obviously, because I thought I needed help. It did, but
>> it also introduced me to Spinoza. And that has been a deeper "help". So,
>> from a personal perspective, I can totally understand how Spinoza and
>> periizhvanie would be connected. For all of you ESL teachers out there, who
>> doesn't remember Krashen on the "affective filter" and I have been seeing a
>> lot on character and education lately. Oh yes, and how failing is important
>> to eventual success. Teasing out issues in the education of
>> non-mainstreamers, and recognizing how the current system is toxic for
>> everyone, I think Spinoza's analysis and the narrative of his life are
>> powerful. Vygotsky hits me the same way. Cantor, the mathematician, and
>> Pierce, the philosopher/logician/semiotician, also constantly come up for
>> me. They were ridiculed by the received cognoscenti of the time, so much so
>> that the suffered mental breakdowns. But they pushed on to develop tools in
>> math and semiotics that seem to me are complementary with Vygotsky. Again I
>> get to take the role of unserious scholar here, so think of my thoughts as
>> gaming on line and don't take the game too seriously.
>> Henry
>> On Sep 5, 2014, at 6:42 PM, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:
>> > Hi David and Henry--
>> >
>> > David-- I was intrigued by your comment that Spinoza is a controversial
>> > topic on xmca. I googled Spinoza on the main web page and came up with 4K
>> > plus hits (!!). My own impression is that few on this list, me included,
>> > have engaged in serious study of Spinoza let alone the imprint of Spinoza
>> > on Vygotsky.
>> >
>> > What is the nature of the controversy? What is at stake? The topic is of
>> > particular interest to me at present because I have been part of
>> > discussions with people who are focused on Vygotsky's use of perezhivanie
>> > in his later work, where the relation of emotion and cognition is a
>> central
>> > concern and Spinoza is clearly relevant.
>> >
>> > Henry and anyone interested in chasing down what has been written about
>> > various topics in xmca chatter, take advantage of the nice google search
>> at
>> > lchc.ucsd.edu.
>> >
>> > mike
>> >
>> > (who enmeshed in the sense/meaning distinction in all of its multilingual
>> > confusifications at present)