(401-414) The Dogma of Individualism 401-403

Great losses -- small.
Greater losses -- too small.
Great extravagance distorts the Self
By scraping away the corners.
Perhaps there is benefit at the time of the evening meal.
Great extravagance distorts the Self
By scraping away ones own abilities.
It must be avoided.

The Dogma of Individualism

"I openly confess that my remembering David Hume was the very thing which many years ago first interrupted my dogmatic slumber and gave my investigations in the field of speculative philosophy a quite new direction".

Immanuel Kant1


The Li:

When I had read Kant's preface to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, I noticed that a definite pattern had arisen in the writings of the philosophers we have read starting with Descartes, through Hume, to Kant. A new bias had developed beginning with Descartes against the blind acceptance of philosophers that had preceded them and had become authorities in their subjects. Kant articulated his bias against what he called dogma for what was entirely new (and therefore his own) in the quote above.


The wall is precipitous;
The foundations are not beaten down hard.
In three years it falls in ruins.

Descartes sought to prove existing dogmas by way of a new process. Descartes' focus mostly seemed to be on the process of reasoning, and the resemblance of his conclusions to traditionally held beliefs about the existence of God really only served to prove the validity of his process. Descartes seemed to imply that, if the reader would only follow his example in reasoning out the nature of one's existence and its relation to God, the reader would ultimately come to similar conclusions. Or, the reader might be satisfied by following Descartes' arguments and finding them as conclusive as they are. However, the philosophers which followed did not accept Descartes' conclusions about the nature of man's existence, but did rework Descartes' process by denying all that had come before and reconstructing their own philosophies "from scratch."


Metal trunks, and jade posts,
Extending the city walls.

Possibly, by Descartes' time, there had already been a growing respect for knowledge that is gained by individual experience rather than from authority. The philosophers that I have read which preceded Descartes chronologically (i.e. Augustine, Aquinas, etc.), creative geniuses though they may have been, were not as self-consciously innovative as Descartes. Often, new concepts, in medieval literature, were attributed to fictional predecessors in order to give them more validity in the minds of the readers. Descartes, however, does just the opposite and takes old (and well known) arguments and makes them seem to be the inevitable arguments one would arrive at if he were in the proper quiet state by which one can escape the influences of other minds. For example, his proof of the existence of God by the necessity of God as a first cause, must have come from his reading Aristotle. However, Descartes would have us believe that one would necessarily think of these arguments and arrive at the same conclusions if one could only attain the quiet state by which one can reason purely and without prejudice.2

Hume, on the other hand, seemed to take Descartes' process more seriously for himself but was not predisposed to arrive at the same conclusions as Descartes. Hume's initial denial of all preceding philosophy was thorough and sincere. He called religion "superstition" and attributed its popularity to custom. Hume was truly skeptical of anything that could not be made known to him through his experience primarily through the senses or through ideas that are closely connected to sensory experience. Hume's determined individuality caused him to write of his feelings of alienation from others, yet also of his pride in innovation.3


Extending is without a son,
The house of stone is without a housewife.

Kant was inspired to start a new philosophy from "scratch" by Hume's skepticism (see above quote). Yet, Kant uses Hume's questions to find his own conclusions. Kant's experiences with mathematics and science seem to be very different than Hume's. Kant sees that some ideas do not come to us through experience but precede experience and are part of what enables us to process experience in ways that are usable by adding to what he calls our "understanding." Kant in some ways seems even more skeptical than Hume when he denies that anything can be perceived as it is in itself, but does not deny the powers of the mind to conceive ideas that are essential and a priori, and yet are not experienced.


Heaven's gates are flung wide open:
The vast hall and the staircase;
Consider whether life has been in error.

In the Preface to Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant reiterates again and again the importance of finding something new and not merely reworking traditionally accepted philosophies:

We have been long accustomed to seeing antiquated knowledge produced as new by taking it out of its former context, and fitting it into a systematic dress of any fancy pattern under new titles. Most readers will set out by expecting nothing else from the Critique; but these Prolegomena may persuade them that it is a perfectly new science, of which no one has ever even thought, the very idea of which was unknown, and for which nothing hitherto accomplished can be of the smallest use, except it be the suggestion of Hume's doubts.4


Heaven's gates are flung wide open.
Virtue is unable to enter the lake palace.

When Kant mentions "antiquated knowledge" I believe that he means ancient philosophy or perhaps even all thought concerning the ideas of metaphysics preceding David Hume. Kant, though he avoids all prejudices based on dogma or belief, fully accepts the assumption that we are an evolving species and that his ideas represent the highest achievement in philosophy until better future ideas evolve benefiting from his work. Perhaps this is true, however, it seems that the assumption that newer is better is a sort of prejudice that could influence thinking processes and their conclusions. Does this lessen the validity of those conclusions? I don't think so, for new ideas are always useful for us to consider for ourselves to accept and reject as we please, yet I am not convinced that older ideas may not be just as valid. I think that if I confronted Kant with this, he would have me test his ideas through any process of my own and (like Descartes) I would necessarily come to similar conclusions or, maybe more particular to Kant, I would tire from the rigor of this mental exercise before I could come up with sufficient grounds to refute him. I might be forced to concede out of laziness. But, would a Christian mystic argue against Kant on Kant's own terms? No, s/he would justify his/her Christian dogma by the "revealed word" which tells him/her of the experiences of those who "know" God or by his/her own mystical experiences. Augustine would advise Kant to seek God directly and He would answer his questions and then plunge him into the consideration of even deeper mysteries, some of which cannot be even described in words. I suppose that such a discussion would not be fruitful for either Augustine or Kant because each would be too firmly rooted in their dogma, one of Christian Neo-Platonism and the other in his own experience. It is difficult to see the common ground by which they could begin their discussion.


Outside is great expansion;
At the center, loss.

Although Kant allows the mind to be thought of as capable of thinking validly of things that are beyond experience, those ideas, for Kant, must then to be cross-referenced against the experiences of the senses to affirm their validity. Again, this idea may be easily accepted by one who thinks in a very linear rational way, but how would this apply to the experiences of a mystic who would focus his/her attention much more on his/her internal rather than external perceptions? Even the mystic's anthropomorphic deities help her/him have visions which confirm their existence. How does Kant's philosophy apply to the world of dreams that to some is more real than day-world reality? Are all those who do not begin with him and go along with him or refute him by his own terms to be considered, as he puts it, an "indolent bunch of drones?"5


The knight reaches the wilderness;
The humble person enters his house.

I appreciate the innovations made by Descartes, Hume, and Kant. Each has caused me to think about my own experiences on much subtler levels, and the systems of thought they have each constructed have made indelible patterns in my mind by which I might organize my thinking about the objective vs. the subjective. However, if I were to follow their examples and create a philosophy of my own I would have to find ways to rebel even against them, possibly by interjecting a belief system from another culture and/or not relying solely on what I come to know phenomenologically. I could create a philosophy based on experience but including a validation of the experience of dreams, yet be general or universal enough to encompass even day-world experiences. Yet, I would still be confined within the limitations of the same dogma confining Descartes, Hume, and Kant; the dogma of the individual seeking even more freedom in thought. I suppose there is nothing really very wrong with that, but when can it ever be said that we are really free from any prejudice?


Extending outside into emptiness;
Inside is advantage.
Drums and gongs.

Now, imagine a great grandmother archetype seeing each of the previously mentioned philosophers as her quarrelsome children. What would be her main concern? How relevant can their philosophies be from her perspective? Each would be praised for satisfying his internal needs in such clever ways and for whatever happiness they may have found in their lives in other ways. Maybe their writing might have helped others live better and more moral lives. She would not praise so much for their accomplishments as individuals, but for how they may have helped others and contributed to the health and survival of all of her children.


Extending outside into emptiness;
Inside however, one has possessions.
The divination is audible.

Kant's theories on ethics certainly have given modern philosophies a moral basis that has survived modern materialism. He promoted the Great Grandmother's simple moralistic idea: "What if everybody did that? Would it still be right?" The Dog is concerned with how our actions affect others and even should in service of others. The Dog cares less about individual glory and more for the collective good. Innovation is not important at all. What is important is the health and happiness of all of her creatures from the past, present and future. Perhaps nothing can even be seen as innovative to her for all exists in the same moment for her whether it be in our past, present, or future. The cycle of life is eternal and is all that is important. No personal glory is worth the sacrifice of life itself.


The central pillar of the Extending
Is manifested high overhead.

I was impressed in the Oresteia how Clytemnestra, with a single stroke of the knife, reinterpreted all the macho principles of the Illiad. The great hero, Agamemnon, became nothing more than a child murderer; the worst of criminals.

Three years without a boy.

Dream - A strange man visited me in a futuristic sort of place and worked with a robot and me figuring out the name of an old forties tune. The robot's name was Thisbe. The man seemed very appreciative when we had figured out the tune. It was his favorite. He asked that we gather up some children from the neighborhood. We did, and he turned them into beautiful cows. When it was late in the day, the man went home and we thought that he would fly away to another planet.

The next day, Thisbe and I walked to his house which appeared in a field close to some very large farm equipment. His house was large and old-fashioned and was raised up on stilts. It was connected to a rocket ship. Thisbe and I brought him some sheet music of his favorite tune. He came to the door of the rocket in the form of a little boy holding a kitten. He thanked us for the music. He was almost ready to fly away. Later, we came back hoping to see him again and to ask him what to do about the cows. The rocket ship was gone but we met a woman entering the house who said that he would be back in a couple of weeks. We thought she was his maid but, while we were leaving the house, we saw a group of children singing and playing musical instruments including a vibraphone. They were rehearsing the man's favorite tune and doing a great job of it. The woman must have been their director for eventually she came out of the house and began conducting them.

1 Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to Any Fure Metaphysics that will be able to Come Forward as Science; n.d.; rpt. 1977; Hacket Pub. Co.
2 Descartes, Rene. Discourse on Method; 1637; rpt. 1980; Hacket Pub. Co.
3 Hume, David. A Treatise on Human Nature; n.d.; rpt. 1989; Oxford University Press.
4 Kant. Ibid.
5 Ibid.

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