Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 9, "Justifications of Curiosity as Preparation for the Enlightenment"

Modernity's self-portrayal as an absolute new beginning does not hold up. But a historicism which sees only continuity from the Middle Ages to modernity does not do justice to the epochal change between them, either. The relationship between them must be understood as dialectical -- Modernity responds to questions, conditions, restrictions of the medieval era.

379: "The insight that all logic, both historically and systematically, is based on structures of dialogue has not yet been brought to bear in the construction of historical categories. If the modern age was not the monologue, beginning at point zero, of the absolute subject -- as it pictures itself -- but rather the system of efforts to answer in a new context questions that were posed to man in the Middle Ages, then this would entail new standards for interpreting what does in fact function as an answer to a question but does not represent itself as such an answer and may even conceal the fact that that is what it is. Every occurrence [Ereignis], in the widest sense of the term, is characterized by 'correspondence'; it responds to a question, a challenge, a discomfort; it bridges over an inconsistency, relaxes a tension, or occupies a vacant position."

Blumenberg holds up Nietzsche for having this kind of historical understanding, but isn't something due here to Hegel, as well?

Development of Faust figure in literature represents the assertion of theoretical curiosity -- his curiosity is increasing portrayed positively.

Giordano Bruno consciously frames pursuit of human cognitive drive as a transgression of and liberation from limits set by the Aristotelian system.

Francis Bacon -- legalistic depiction of relationship between man's cognitive ambitions and nature. Man has a right to knowledge which needs to be recovered. This right has been stymied because of man's indolence and obedience to convention. (Note that this account only makes sense when knowledge is viewed not as contemplation but as a product of manipulation, of forcing nature to revel its secrets through experiment.) Man had power over nature in state of paradise; it was moral knowledge which was reserved for God and in grasping for which man lost everything. But man retains the right to control over nature, and science will return that control to him. Traditional conception of theory is really an idle curiosity, a theoretical lassitude which is prematurely satisfied with incomplete knowledge that cannot yet support its function of restoring man's power over nature. In contrast to contemplation, the knowledge sought cannot be predefined; it is revealed through accident, and the point is to organize the pursuit of accident systematically.

Mathematical science of nature, as developed by Kepler and Galileo, has no need of vindication of man's right to knowledge of nature. It is not mediated by God at all, not even in being allowed to be revealed; to the extent that nature is known mathematically, it is known with the same certainty and in the same way that god knows it.

Galileo distinguishes the intensity and extent of knowledge, and uses this for defense from theological criticism. The acquisition and continuous expansion of knowledge actually allows man to understand that there always remains an infinitude of truth which is unknown, and so illustrates his finitude. (I think this reprises Nicolas of Cusa's argument.)

Although Blumenberg sees in Galileo the beginning of the detachment of curiosity from individual psychology and its transformation into an impersonal process, he acknowledges Galileo still in some sense inhabited the conventional role of the curious man. He presented his findings in a notably digressive style, with many findings happened upon in an accidental manner and not well integrated into a systematic account. Descartes criticizes Galileo for this lack of systematic approach -- the first truly modern critique of curiosity.

Jakob Brucker -- historiographer of origins of Greek philosophy -- sees it as reaction to dogmatic philosophical tradition inherited from Eastern civilizations -- a reaction that was possible because the political freedom of the Greek states permitted free play to curiosity.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy fo the Modern Age: Part III, Chapter 8, "Interest in Invisible Things within the World"

Copernicus displaces the explanation for apparent movement of heavenly bodies. He attributed the movement in part (and completely, in the case of the distant stars) to the rotation of the earth itself. This eliminated the need for positing a sphere of fixed stars, but Copernicus himself did not dispense with the heavenly spheres and a finite world. Nor did he anticipate astronomical phenomena that were not visible to the naked eye but which would be revealed with mechanical assistance.

Thomas Digges is the first to set aside the system of heavenly spheres, and draws the implication that the world is not finite, that the stars that we see are just the visible ones among an infinite number, most of which are too far away to see. Identifies the space beyond vision with the realm reserved solely for God.

371: "Theology destroys itself by staking its claim on the finality of a consciousness of finitude. By emphasizing the inconsiderateness and relentlessness of absolute power with respect to man, it makes it impossible for the progress of theory to be neutral, for technical accomplishment to be a matter of indifference, in this historical zone. By laying claims to supposed boundaries and impossibilities, theology exposes itself fatally, as it had done and was to do with the proof of God's existence and with theodicy."

Galileo's discovery of new phenomena with the telescope demolishes the prejudice that everything in the world has already been given to unaided sight. It also brings one of the highest form of human activity -- contemplation of the heavens -- under the sway of technical knowledge of machinery. In so doing, it subverts the order of fixed and finite human knowledge; it leads to an expectation of further knowledge as the result of technical improvements; it historicizes astronomy.