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Voorkant Tauber 'Henri David Thoreau and the moral agency of knowing' Alfred I. TAUBER
Henri David Thoreau and the moral agency of knowing
Berkeley etc.: University of California Press, 2001, 318 blzn.; ISBN-13: 978 05 2023 9156

[Ik las dit boek omdat Thoreau geldt als een groot inspiratiebron voor de ecologische beweging en ik belangstelling heb voor zijn visie op een toekomstige wereld. Tauber is een Amerikaans wetenschapshistoricus en wetenschapsfilosoof die grote affiniteit heeft met mensen als Thoreau. In de eerste helft van het boek heeft hij wel goede dingen te zeggen over Thoreau en zijn problemen met het opkomende positivisme tegen de achtergrond van de Romantiek. Maar het boek leidt steeds meer aan een taalgebruik dat deels iets met metafysica te maken heeft en deels met postmoderne aesthetica: het wordt onverteerbaar vaag. Ik begrijp niet dat een schrijver zo weinig kritisch kan zijn over wat hij schrijft.]

(ix) Acknowledgments

"For me, Thoreau is a fascinating 'hinge' character residing between an ebbing Romanticism and a rising positivism."(ix)

"More generally, he exemplifies the difficulty of assigning value to our science that seeks dispassionate objectivity, yet remains firmly tied to humane understanding. We assign value to our knowledge; we require placing the self in its world; we seek to use our knowledge for humane purposes. Each requires the assignment of value and the exercise of choice."(ix)

"At about the same time I was introduced to Thoreau, I also began reading Freud and guides to his work. Of these, the most memorable was Philip Rieff’s Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959), a book that impressed me in many ways, not the least of which was the intimation that a scientific project might reflect a moral attitude or program."(x)

[Ja, natuurlijk kan dat. Een morele gedrevenheid om objectief te zijn, bijvoorbeeld, een enorm belang en een enorme betekenis hechten aan 'objectiviteit'. De waarden bepalen de methoden, de positieve kanten ervan en de eenzijdige problematische kanten ervan. Kijk naar de geschriften van positivisten en natuurlijk zie je dan de waarden achter hun keuzes en pleidooien en fouten.]

"There are other issues that have served as the organizing subjects of my writing — reductionism and positivism; the limits of analysis in philosophy; the ethics of history; the character of moral philosophy in our postmodern age; the subject-object relationship in science generally."(x)

"... the deepest strata of this study find their settings in the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, specifically in his notion of an 'ethical metaphysics' as superseding other modes of being and knowing."(xi)

[Oh oh, als dat maar goed gaat ... Het begon zo leuk, en nu duikt ineens het woord 'metafysica' op.]

(1) Introduction

"This preoccupation with the limits of his vision is a constant Thoreauvian theme, and even as his observations of nature became more scrupulous and even 'scientific' in character, a self-consciousness remained, beguiling the growing positivist efforts to objectify the world. This Janus-like vision — simultaneously observing both the world and himself — offers us an essential clue in understanding Thoreau’s project."(2)

"Despite his commitment to empiricism and public discourse, Thoreau understood that what he saw and how he processed that experience were characteristic of his personal vision and ultimately shaped by it."(3)

[Dat vind ik mooi: een kien waarnemer met een goed oog voor detail die zich desondanks de hele tijd bewust is van wat hij noodzakelijkerwijs over het hoofd moet zien.]

"Thoreau regarded himself as living a philosophically informed life. For him, philosophy was a moral guide, and in the same spirit in which he criticized the mercantile pursuits of his neighbors, he distanced himself from philosophers who, in his view, failed to rise to his standard of living the virtuous life:
There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live. To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically. (Walden, 1971, pp. 14–15)"(3)

[Een man naar mijn hart ...]

"'Moral' is being used here — and throughout this book — not in reference to the more narrow ideas of 'right and wrong' or 'good and evil' but in reference to the generic understanding of 'value'. To comprehend 'moral' in this way is to acknowledge that prior to assigning 'rightness' or 'wrongness', we must begin by regarding the act of judgment as following the decision that a verdict is to be made in the first place. With this broadened conception, value judgments not only include choices about one’s actions typically regarded as 'ethical' but encompass assigning value in any context. Each act — whether appreciating an apple tree, curbing one’s consumerism, or refusing to pay a poll tax — then becomes a self-conscious valuation. In this regard, morality has been extended into every facet of experience, because the knowing agent is acutely self-conscious that each act is significant or not significant as determined by the attention and value that is assigned. Thus there is no neat separation between knowing the world (epistemologically) and valuing that knowledge (a moral judgment)."(5)

[Ik ben het eens met het centraler stellen van het hele idee 'waarderen', of 'het stellen van waarden en normen. Ik noem dat dus normatieve rationaliteit. Ik denk echter niet dat ik het eens ben met die laatste zin 'dat er geen nette scheiding is tussen het kennen van de wereld' en het 'waarderen van die kennis'. Wat bedoelt Tauber met dat er geen nette scheiding is? Het zijn desondanks wel twee heel verschillende activiteiten.]

" In this latter respect, Nietzsche was specifically referring to how value — what is chosen as important, indeed as critical, to a serious and deliberate life — must serve as the very foundation of any guiding philosophy or spirituality."(8)

"Chapter 4 presents a survey of the scientific culture of Thoreau’s era, and in the rise of positivism we see the ethos of a worldview at odds with Thoreau’s Romanticism. Against the positivists’ radical divorce of the observer from his object of scrutiny, Thoreau attempted to create his own nature study, appreciating that he could not fit into a science dominated by a positivist epistemology. He used 'facts' as his own currency, for his own purpose."(17)

"To Thoreau we owe much of our heightened awareness of nature’s sanctity, a complex fusion of Romantic sentiment and an ecological (scientific) consciousness. Nature was not thereby redeemed so much as transformed in an ongoing creative project, which positioned the scientific worldview within a broadened humanistic context."(18)

"So we see not only in his epistemological strivings but also in his moral philosophy a reduction of the world, natural and moral, to his own measure."(19)

"In our post-positivist era, we now appreciate that the radical separation of the subject from the object of examination is a false conceit. Our view of nature is always a construction, known in a particular way, in a particular context, with a particular history. But Thoreau lived in a period that witnessed the rapid rise of positivism, when human knowing was thought to be totally transparent on its object. He recognized that such an idealized objectivity would rob us of making the world our own. He struggled with a response to this challenge. He showed us why the positivist perspective was distorting, alienating, and ultimately false. He sought to preserve an enchanted world and to place the passionate observer in the center of his or her universe."(20)

"Thoreau decried positivism not as a philosophy of science, but as a philosophy of knowing, whose objectivity was inadequate for navigating the world and making it meaningful. Radical objectivity fails because the view from nowhere leaves Man out of the picture, and with no perspective there is no significance, no meaning, no order, and ultimately no self."(21)

"The mind of a moralist — a category superseding any authorial voice — is at the epicenter connecting all of Thoreau’s endeavors. The pivotal issue for us is to probe the constitution of Thoreau’s moral philosophy, to see how it informed his life’s work, and its expression. It is this ethical dimension that brings him to the forefront of our contemporary concerns."(22)

(23) 1 - The Eternal Now

"These various elements — the elusiveness of time that can only be captured in the present; the existential crux of living, alone, to the fullest in that present; the demand to live according to 'what you love', namely by individual dictates and not socially sanctioned morality — served as Thoreau’s guiding philosophy, informing his life’s work. Overarching each component is the construction of his moral domain, which I perceive as flowing directly from his conception of time. His consciousness, the deliberate consideration of nature, economy, the world, oneself, stems from his appreciation of the present. For him, in a sense, there is no past and no future. Divine time is eternal, knowing no divisions."(25)

Wat niet betekent dat Thoreau geen gevoel had voor geschiedenis. Dat is één betekenis van tijd die hem bezig hield. De andere is abstracter: ook de geschiedenis herinneren we ons alleen maar in het heden, zoals we ook in het heden over de toekomst nadenken.

"In a phenomenological sense, indeed existentially, we are only in the present, because, strictly speaking, only the present exists. We live in the present moment, and while the past is recalled or witnessed as artifact, that witness is experienced only in the present. The future, like the past, exists only as a mental construct only in the present moment. And then the imbroglio: the present is never held on to; it is always slipping by into the past, flowing from a future never quite here."(26)

Net als Augustinus vóór hem en William James ná hem ziet hij het heden als iets wat ons voortdurend ontsnapt. ('the elusiveness of the present').

[De context is daarbij blijkbaar het bewustzijn of zelf-bewustzijn of het zelf. Ik weet niet wat de uitdrukking betekent en zie nog minder waarom ze belangrijk is.]

"According to this formulation, experience in its primary state admits no reflection, and only by 'processing' that experience retrospectively can it become known. Perhaps paradoxically, the present only 'exists' as a construction drawn from our reflection on time; and, as such, the apprehension of the present, its experience qua present, is the product of our deliberations which divide and distill experience (see James [1890] 1983, pp. 574–75). In a sense, the present is 'experienced' only in memory. So in short, self-consciousness organizes experience after the fact, an epistemological precept from which we may confidently regard Thoreau’s various projects, ranging from his mystical reveries to the deliberate business of 'writing nature'."(29)

"Could Thoreau be suggesting that if he could effect a perfect union of his intelligence with nature, then his imagination might share some correspondence with divine Intelligence?"(34)

[Hm, ineens zit ik woorden te lezen als Augustinus, ziel, god, metafysica, transcendentaal, zelf, en zo meer. Ik lees dus vaagheid ... Gaat dit nu allemaal over individuele beleving, navelstaren en zo verder en is de ander niet van belang? Dan snap ik die opmerkingen uit de inleiding niet, waarin het gaat over wat ik normatieve rationaliteit noem.]

Thoreau's opvattingen over tijd zijn de volgende drie: tijd / de ervaring van tijd is iets subjectiefs (de natuur kent geen tijd, wij als mensen construeren de tijd); de natuur is voortdurend in verandering en we kunnen dat alleen maar ervaren in het heden; we moeten geen tijd verspillen, want dat is een belediging voor de eeuwigheid, maar de tijd koesteren.

"Because time was so problematic, Thoreau would attempt to regard it as a function of the soul, serving both as his deepest ontology and as the source of divine truth."(35)

" 'As if you could kill time without injuring eternity' (ibid., p. 8). This is a key phrase, for eternity, the infinite, knows no time, and by trivializing time, by wasting one’s time, one does 'injury' to eternity, which is as close to divine as Thoreau will approach. Injury connotes hurt and injustice, so time becomes frankly moral in this calculation. So how is time tempered and 'protected'?
Time for Thoreau is the present, and to live in the present — as opposed to being directed by some uncapturable past or living for some anticipated (and thus false) future — was the key deliberate act."(36)

[Tjonge, allemaal erg vaag dus inderdaad. Thoreau lijkt hier iemand die alleen maar wil navelstaren in het hier en nu en geen enkele maatschappijkritiek heeft resp. geen enkele neiging heeft om de wereld te veranderen.]

"Keen observation, patient looking, spiritual contemplation — Thoreau celebrates his ability to rationally know and meticulously record the natural, and thus he deliberately seeks to recapture the immediacy of experience which he now appreciates as the union with nature. This insight retains a certain irony, however, because Thoreau must be self-consciously aware of his intelligence, and it is this self-conscious awareness that apprehends time’s passing, the fleeting present, the elusive basis of experience. This self-awareness is the source of Thoreau’s moral understanding of time."(37-38)

"In his view the self is ultimately posed by the problem of time in the metaphysics of change. So both in his self-appraisal and in his rendering a world which is 'fixed' from that tenuous position of self-knowledge, Thoreau emerges as a self-conscious artisan, constructing a mind’s 'portrait' of nature ever mindful of the elusiveness of the present."(41)

"The primacy of individual agency, the character of self-determination, and the moral demand of free action are the underlying precepts of Thoreau’s vision of selfhood, and in many respects we might structure his notions of time as the keystone holding together the entire edifice of moral identity."(42)

[Vaag vaag vaag. Tauber b;lijft verschrikkelijk vaag. Ik zou zoiets niet kunnen schrijven, omdat ik het gevoel zou hebben dat ik er niets mee zou zeggen.]

" Each affirms an ethic of the self which authenticates itself in facing the infinite universe, forced to confront human insignificance and our essential powerlessness as we face the unbridgeable gulf between ourselves and the rest of existence. This posture inevitably leads us to existential loneliness. In contrast to the Transcendentalists, Nietzsche was uninterested in nature as a source of mending this metaphysical chasm that arises from recognizing our place in the universe: The indifference of nature means that nature has no reference to ends, and thus for Nietzsche, we reside alone. Our 'present' is, indeed our present. But Thoreau, the Transcendentalist, sees an immutable being which remains accessible."(43)

(45) 2 - Three Apple Trees

"A key support of this conceptual edifice, perhaps its very platform, was his search for an aesthetic or spiritual ideal. Whether we define him within the context of a Transcendental idealism, or a less well formulated philosophical program or poetic orientation, Thoreau was, in common parlance, a dreamer. And in dreams, time is suspended. Conversely, in consciousness, time is not only 'present'; it is an obstacle to be overcome. Thoreau’s reveries, his mystical excursions, his fascination with Hinduism, his experiences communing with nature were all expressions of an unencumbered temporality, where the swings of everyday life, the cycle of hours, days, and seasons — the flux of time’s contingency — were suspended."(45)

Geschiedenis als wetneschappelijke geschiedenis, semiotische geschiedenis, en persoonlijke herinneringen zijn de drie benaderingen van tijd die bij Thoreau een rol spelen.

"In this short passage, Thoreau has offered keen insight into the very psychology by which one knows the world in general, not to speak of history in particular. On his view, the centrality of our individual perspective empowers the selection of what is important to us and, by such interpretation, the mundane is transformed into significance. This translation succinctly captures Thoreau’s own vision of the poet as historian. Indeed, he explicitly acknowledges that personalized (exaggerated, interpreted) history is poetry and that in its faithful execution a new (higher) truth is attained."(53)

"This historical art of reading discreet signs Ginzburg has characterized as 'semiotic'. Semiotics certainly has a more venerable history than its formalization in the nineteenth century, and can be traced back through Augustine and the Greco-Roman grammarians through Mesopotamian divination to the primordial practice of hunters following their prey. What characterizes 'semiotics' in this context, and gives it its definitional power for history, is not its scientific character but rather the qualitative nature of the interpretative inquiry: "the historian is like the physician who uses nosological tables to analyze the specific sickness in a patient. As with the physician’s, historical knowledge is indirect, presumptive, conjectural" (ibid., p. 106).
Thoreau practiced a cognitive exercise that was fundamentally interpretative and thus 'personal'. His unique individuality and confidence in his ability to decipher those marks characterize his methodology. But he must have proceeded being aware that his approach was suspect, which explains many of his defensive, if not polemical, justifications."(58)

"Given the growing positivism of nineteenth-century natural sciences, the specific designation of 'scientist' for practitioners of what was previously called natural philosophy in the 1840s, and the application of this appellation to the social sciences at about the same time, Thoreau was well aware that he was sailing against a prescriptive tide of scientism. New standards called for 'objective' evidence for the natural philosophy of living forms — now called biology — and for the record of human history as well. Thoreau attempted to meet such standards, but he was loath to leave the facts in abeyance without an interpretation whereby their significance and meaning would emerge within his personal context. Indeed, Thoreau approaches history as would an artist, whose creative reconstruction of the past must synthesize elements of memory, artifact, historical record, oral tradition, and moral purpose. In this last respect, Thoreau recognized history written in the 'objective' mode as a conceit: history was hardly unbiased, impartial, or aperspectival. His efforts may be seen as part of a Romantic reaction against the positivist attitude, which he justifiedly regarded with suspicion. He was not alone. At the same time that this positivist fervor was emerging in mid-nineteenth-century sciences and social sciences, a growing sensitivity to the interpretative character of the human sciences was also appreciated. This battle, whose lines were already clearly drawn by mid-century, framed the evolution of these disciplines into our own time and will serve as a central theme of chapter 4."(59)

"Thoreau was fundamentally a poet, not a historian. Again and again, he would choose the testimony of an informant’s memory and imagination as more important, if not even more valid, than conventional historical narratives. Why? Is not history, in fact, publicly verifiable and therefore more reliable? After all, the difference between memory and history, at least most obviously, is the degree of verisimilitude."(70)

(75) 3 - Another Apple Tree

"In short, Thoreau would be oriented and guided by his communion with Intelligence. Conventional or public knowledge is not only intellectually limiting, it is morally confining, restricting the individual from living a full life. Our true being is in the ephemeral mist, where only through sympathy do we perceive the cosmic Intelligence that permeates all things with its endowment. This might be known only through an emotional and spiritual apparatus."(79-80)

"A cynic might easily say that Thoreau was a part-time mystic, one no doubt sensitive to the siren’s song, but intermittent in his attention. After all, the bulk of his work consisted in exactly the opposite endeavor, making his consciousness explicit and shared publicly through his writing."(80)

"When Goethe wrote on color theory, Priestley on electricity, or Lyell on geology, these natural philosophers used history to legitimate their own work. Even into our own era, history of science — when still entertained as relevant to science — was often seen as exercising a beneficial influence on practice, so that the laboratory scientist might profit from history used as an analytical tool (Kragh 1987, pp. 33–34). While the historical perspective as a value in itself governed such innovators as Giambattista Vico, confusions about historical interpretation as an important scholarly activity distinct from doing science itself were only slowly untangled."(85)

"Goethe was an ardent holist, an orientation formed from both his aesthetic and philosophical sensibilities, and no doubt Thoreau found in him a clear articulation of this Romantic ethos with which he held a strong affinity."(87)

"The relationship of Emerson and Thoreau is obviously complex (e.g., Paul 1958; Porte 1966; Richardson 1985), and I will not further delve into it here, except to note that a key separation, evinced by Thoreau’s scientific interests and frankly greater 'immersion' in nature, suggests that, far more than Emerson, Thoreau was interested in defining nature’s structure, both spiritual and material, for its own sake as opposed to discerning how nature might subserve humanity (Buell 1995, p. 116). Emerson’s judgment that "Nature . . . is made to serve" and that it "receives the dominion of man as meekly as the ass on which the Saviour rode" (Emerson 1983a, p. 28) can hardly be more anti-Thoreauvian in sentiment."(101)

"All these differences being cited, still, Thoreau’s commitment to empiricism did not obviate his search for meaning. So, while Emersonian Idealism was radically transfigured by Thoreau’s project, we must not lose sight that in his nature writing, Thoreau, like Emerson, was committed to seeking the same basic Romantic metaphysical truths: evidence for nature’s unity and beauty; man’s harmonious placement therein; clues as to the moral structure of the universe by which man might be ethically informed and guided."(102)

(104) 4 - Thoreau at the Crossroads

"At the very least, Thoreau regarded science throughout his life with strong ambivalence, and his various studies of nature were highly varied and only loosely structured. More to the point, Thoreau self-consciously pursued a course that he readily appreciated was different from the science of his time. Indeed, he expressly sought a different mode of knowing, one which recast an older scientific tradition into a new personalized form, the genre of nature writing. To get there, Thoreau had to find his place relative to the science of his era, maintaining a safe distance from its objectification of nature, yet at the same time employing 'facts' to create an aestheticized vision of nature that confirmed his vision of her splendorous reality. In short, Thoreau, characteristically out of step with his peers, eyed with mistrust the rising tide of positivism which began to sweep the scientific community of the 1840s and 1850s, because it would obstruct his own vision of what a description of nature must and should achieve. What was he reacting to?"(105)

"The Romantics interested in science fell on a complex subjective continuum. Some were highly contemplative and idealist in orientation, like Coleridge and Emerson; others, like Goethe and Humboldt, were committed to the careful empirical investigation of nature. For our purposes here, the striking character of both of these Romantic genres of speculation is their assertion of the self-consciousness of the observer in his study of nature, and the active role they assign to imagination and aesthetic sensitivity toward the goal of discovering (or, perhaps, reaffirming) a cosmic unity. Whatever separates Thoreau, Goethe, Humboldt, Coleridge, and Emerson in the particulars of their scientific practice and philosophical outlooks, their shared notions of creative intuition pervade their respective epistemologies. By the 1840s, however, this active faculty of the investigator became increasingly eclipsed by an altogether different, 'positivist' standard of observation."(106)

"Positivism sought a collection of rules and evaluative criteria by which to distinguish true knowledge from what Wittgenstein famously called 'nonsense'. Thus positivism is a normative attitude which would regulate how we use such terms as 'knowledge', 'science', 'cognition', and 'information' (Kolakowski 1968). As developed in the 1850s, positivism came to be understood as a normative philosophical belief which held that the methods of natural science offer the only viable way of thinking correctly about human affairs. Accordingly, empirical experience served as the basis of all knowledge. Facts, the products of sensory experience, were first ascertained and then classified. 'Hypothesis' was defined as the expectation of observing facts of a certain kind under certain conditions; and a scientific 'law' could be defined as the proposition that under conditions of a certain kind, facts of a certain kind were uniformly observable. Any 'hypothesis' or 'law' that could not be defined in terms like these would be written off as 'pseudo-hypothesis' or 'pseudo-law' (Collingwood 1940, p. 144) — the ultimate fate of, by these lights, theology and metaphysics ('pseudo-knowledge')."(107)

" It [positivsm - GdG] contrasted sharply with the Romantic view of the world, by denying any cognitive value to value judgments. Experience, positivism maintained, contains no such qualities of men or events as 'noble', 'good', 'evil', or 'beautiful'. In radical reaction against Romanticism’s pursuit of aesthetic totalization, positivists sought instead to objectify nature, banishing human prejudice from scientific judgment. The total separation of observer from the object of observation — an epistemological ideal — reinforced the positivist disallowance of 'value' as part of the process of observation. One might interpret, but such evaluative judgments had no scientific (i.e., objective) standing. Simply put, where the Romantics privileged human interpretation (exemplified by the artistic imagination), the positivists championed mechanical objectivity (e.g., thermometer, voltmeter, chemical analysis)."(107-108)

"Therefore, while I am building on the common notions of opposition between Romanticism and positivism, an important caveat to this discussion is that implicit in the positivists’ own program are two abiding concerns: 1) a search for a totalizing theory of nature and knowledge, and 2) a realization that the aesthetic had some role, albeit poorly understood or acknowledged, in that agenda. Thus the most obvious contrast between Romanticism and positivism lies in their respective notions of method, not in these fundamental goals, albeit the terms of characterization were strikingly different."(108)

"Reductionism, specifically physical reductionism, was a scientific program enunciated by German physiologists (led by Hermann Helmholtz) to eradicate vitalism from biology. The ostensible issue was the uniqueness of life and the basis of that distinctiveness, vitality."(109)

"These issues were largely resolved by three key developments: Helmholtz’s demonstration (1847) that heat generated by contracting muscle could be accounted for by chemical metabolism (i.e., no special vitalistic force was necessary); Louis Pasteur’s demonstration about a decade later that bacteria could not arise through spontaneous (i.e., vitalistic) generation; and finally Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species (1859), which presented the case for a blind materialism to explain the evolution of species. The appeal of vitalism was not totally extinguished by mid-century, but certainly a new scientific ethos had taken over the life sciences by then. This battle over vitalism, and the character of the organic world more generally, may be regarded as an aspect of the quest for a single unity of nature."(110)

" Fundamental questions were posed most famously by three English critics: William Whewell (1794–1866), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), and John Heschel (1792–1871). Whewell’s philosophy of science is most relevant to Thoreau’s own project inasmuch as each man sought to balance empiricism with Imagination."(118)

"This was hardly inductionism in the traditional sense, and Whewell’s proposals initiated vigorous debate over the nature of scientific discovery and verification (Yeo 1985; 1993; Smith 1994). As we will see, later post-positivist interpretations of science’s mode of discovery and theory formation also have focused upon the intuitive, tacit, and aesthetic character of insight required for synthesis and the role of deductive reasoning at play with investigative induction — insights not so alien from Whewell’s position. But in the mid-nineteenth century, Whewell’s idealist philosophy strongly clashed with the growing positivist ethos concerning the objective status of scientific laws. Critics were dismayed at the prospects of a renewal of a speculative neo-Naturphilosophie."(119)

"Humane scientists like Darwin, Huxley, and Tyndall, in promoting the power of scientific explanation, acknowledged the limits of the scientific dominion. With an appreciation that could only be developed from an education steeped in humanistic values, they understood that science’s values of objectivity were, indeed, values. Science is ultimately based on a belief in the values of objectivity, rationality, and order as construed within certain limits and prescriptions. These are chosen for particular purposes and undergo historical development: in this sense, scientific principles are them- selves historically and culturally conditioned."(130)

" Thus proponents of this Vienna Circle position espoused science as the gold standard of knowledge, because sense data — especially in the form of mechanical objectivity — were treated as worthy of foundational status; and, conversely, given such criteria for a basis for truth claims, these positivists judged religious, metaphysical, and ethical statements 'meaningless'.
This strong empirical orientation has been justly challenged on many philosophical, historical, and sociological grounds. Most celebrated of those assailants was Thomas Kuhn, who, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962; 2d ed., 1970), argued that scientific evolution did not exclusively follow such precepts and that other social and aesthetic factors were important determinants of scientific truth."(132)

" Coupled to historically based critiques, philosophers, led by Paul Feyerabend (1975, 1981a, 1981b), argued that there was no prescribed, orthodox scientific method and that science was better characterized as a plurality of philosophies and practices. Finally, sociologists firmly placed science among other social institutions and showed how scientific practice was influenced by a vast intellectual and cultural infrastructure (Hollis and Lukes 1982; Jasanoff et al. 1995). In short, argued the critics, science was hardly normative, and because of an intricate matrix of philosophical, historical, and cultural contingencies, it could not possess a singular universal and prescribed method of discovery or verification. Some further argued that as a result of these critiques, even science’s cognitive content was open to new skepticism."(133)

"Debate ensued about to what degree such 'extraneous' factors determined the cognitive content of scientific descriptions. Contemporary philosophical, historical, and sociological perspectives largely converged in concluding that objectivity cannot be arrived at by transcendental, timeless norms of scientific practice (Megill 1994). Yet these critical perspectives diverge in the degree to which they see social forces effecting scientific content. And here we find the locus of contention. Those embracing a radical constructivist orientation hold that objectivity is achieved primarily as a matter of rhetorical practice and communal praxis. Because the individual cannot achieve objectivity as a private mental condition, monitoring objectivity then becomes a matter of broad social policy, and a communal notion of objectivity takes on a new dimension."(133)

"The clearest articulation countermanding positivist injunctions for logical empiricism at this level of discourse was offered by Michael Polanyi, who wrote Personal Knowledge in 1958 just as the positivist crest was about to crash. I think it informative in exploring Thoreau’s views to understand how his concerns were later reframed and legitimated by Polyani’s critique proposed a century later."(134)

" I would not suggest that Polyani is reviving 'subjectivism', but he is espousing subjectivity’s recognized role in scientific discovery and theory formation. Rather than deny the selective process of observation and the interpretative character of scientific investigation, Polyani embraces them. Thus 'personal knowledge' becomes a catchall for the necessary creative elements which cannot be accounted for in the positivist rendition of science."(135)

" For our culture, dominated by a scientific worldview that too often is regarded as competing against humane values, the path leading to personalized knowledge begins at the door of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond."(139)

(140) 5 - Thoreau’s Personalized Facts

"Contemporary culture has been riven by the schism between the Two Cultures, and their partition remains deeply problematic. But in his day, Thoreau could still believe in some grand synthesis, wherein science might 'enchant' through the aesthetic dimension of the observer’s experience. From his vantage, the scientific view might be extended to encompass beyond nature more elusive dimensions — the emotional, the subjective."(140)

" The issue for him was not how the scientist attempts to be objective but rather how knowledge of the world becomes personally meaningful."(141)

"Thoreau is most critical of a science that cannot, because of its very method, examine the specimen in its living context, a part of the greater whole. This is the early ecologic sensitivity that such critics as Buell (1995) have emphasized. But I suspect that Thoreau is at least equally, probably more, concerned by the necessary distortion demanded by the reductive methodology of science. Only by inference could a scientific assessment be related to the world of the living — for Thoreau, the only true frame of relevance."(144-145)

(163) 6 - Thoreau’s Moral Universe

"What is Thoreau’s enduring moral appeal? That question generates responses that revolve around many issues: the first, and the most accessible, pertains to his formative effect on modern environmentalism. In many respects he set that agenda."(163)

"This leads to the darker side of Thoreau’s moral vision, one that dates to the birth of the social universe. How does one balance the interests of the individual with that of the community in which he lives? From Antigone to our present day, this question has been at the heart of ethics, and Thoreau’s response is noteworthy for the adamant and uncompromising primacy he gives the individual. The moral vision which so guided his life was derived from an inner sense of his own personhood, the preservation of his own autonomy, the sanctity of his self-determined choice. In the end, Thoreau’s moral philosophy is dangerously solipsistic; narcissistic to the extreme, Thoreau’s morality was built from the precept that the protection of his autonomy was the crucial and abiding parameter of moral action."(163)

[Die indruk heb ik ook steeds.]

(195) 7 - The Self-Positing I

"One might stretch Thoreau between two poles — the Real and the Good. He sought 'reality' in all of its diverse guises — in nature, in man, in his own psyche. At the same time, he sought the moral — in social action and politics, in local society, in his dealings with his intimate constellation of friends and family, and, most importantly, in his self-deliberations about his own personhood — to define himself in his work and behavior. These two modes — the ontologic and the moral — are intimately linked, so that knowledge is formed from each and thus inseparable. In short, to know the world is to know it morally, in the sense of assigning it value. Thoreau bound his world together through an endless dialectical process. His vision of nature — what he valued and thus saw — was framed by a particular attitude. In turn, the world informed and guided his own moral development as he matured and cultivated his ethical consciousness in response to what he experienced. Seeing consequently becomes a moral act."(195)

[Je kunt hier eindeloos veel vraagtekens bij zetten. Wat ZEGT Tauber nu eigenlijk in deze alinea?]

"Thoreau employed, knowingly or not, a philosophical scaffolding that bestowed primacy on the self — in particular, on a self-conscious ego.
The theory of subjectivity proposed by Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) best articulated the Romantic understanding of the self that Thoreau himself utilized."(207)

"We live with a deep uncertainty about certainty. We are insecure about criteria of objectivity, rationality, and truth. What indeed is real and how do we know it? Is there a 'self', and if so, what is it? The foundations of knowledge are weakened by the uncertain metaphysics of the knowing agent."(212)

[Dat zijn weer allemaal verkeerde want zinloze vragen.]

"In many respects, postmodernism may be regarded as a continuation of the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment, and it is on that continuum that we might place Thoreau’s own project. We have yet to complete the deconstruction of the self that began in the early nineteenth century. The Romantics had no intention of eliminating the idea of selfhood, but in their initiating its expansion, the concept of identity began to lose its boundaries. Eventually the very question of an entity that we might designate 'the self' became highly problematic, so the very authenticity of such an entity was challenged. Post–World War II literary and artistic expression extended this orientation so that we now speak of the self’s 'indeterminacy', the emblematic slogan for the difficulties in identifying the agency of cognition or moral action (Tauber 1994). When the subject is 'decentered', no longer a stable entity — a reference, an origin, or a source — it becomes only the contingent result or product of multiple historical, social, and psychological forces. On this view, the unity of the self is at best a deceptive construction, a remnant of an older and discarded metaphysics."(212)

[Geweldig, postmodernisme, dat verklaart al dat vage gebabbel.]

"From this reading, the critical issue is not whether Thoreau was an ecocentrist or not, but rather what are the implications of his egocentrism. On the one hand, Thoreau’s celebration of autonomy countermands the seemingly inescapable anomie of our own mass culture and offers an appealing answer to the quandary of conformity; yet, on the other hand, the ethics of his isolating individualism leaves us uneasy about the moral implications of such a stance in a world ever searching for an ethics to govern an increasingly complex, interdependent society. Thoreau, in the end, offers us only an incomplete portrait of moral identity, because he was so rigidly focused on the individual. This indictment may seem ironic considering how relentlessly he pursued an integrated, holistic vision of himself in the world. However, bereft of a sustaining social ethics, Thoreau was all too often left in splendid isolation with nature, whose responses to him, he testifies, were found at Walden Pond, whose surface — sometimes glassy, sometimes ruffled — always reflected his own image."(221)


(222) Epilogue: Mending the World

"The centrality of his personal perspective was both the strength of his character and at the same time its weakness. In order to pursue his private goals, Thoreau often forfeited social intercourse, and even in his political activities he remained steadfastly centered on his own person. Ironically, Thoreau, like Nietzsche after him, attempted to serve as a physician to his culture, but in his famous isolation he remained a solitary figure, glorious in the celebration of his individuality and artistic accomplishment, yet sadly removed from the social world of other human beings. In short, Thoreau’s vision, for all its power to articulate himself and celebrate the natural environment he inhabited, remained communally myopic and thereby restricted to a world of his own making. Others were simply not particularly germane for him."(222)

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