Thursday, February 26, 2009

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Chapter 1, Introduction and Doctrinal Background

Fundamental question: how do organizations recover from lapses in efficiency? Options for clients of lapsed organizations roughly break down into exit (withdraw from interaction) and voice (remain but apply pressure).

Key premise: perfect competition is a poor model for organizational behavior, because slack is pervasive in organizations, including businesses. Slack tends to increase entropically until corrected.

Exit: economics. Voice: politics.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy: Chapter 2, "Cusanus and Italy"

Cusa's influence on Italian philosophy must be looked for not in academic philosophy, but in the thought of key practical men and artists, particularly Leonardo and Alberti. His key influence was not in doctrines but in goals and methods. Cusa propels a tendency in Renaissance thought which insists on giving priority to knowledge based on experience. Cusa creates the methodological basis for this direction in thought by portraying measurement as the foundation of knowledge.

With his mystical embrace of nature, St. Francis led the way to a revaluation of the sensible world. The key image which comes out of the resulting mystical tradition is that of the world as a book written by God. Campanella and other natural philosophers looked at this as a matter of sympathetic reaction to nature, so that things in the world are capable of being understood as signs of God as a result of an immediate feeling. Cusa and the scientific thinkers after him looked for truth in mathematically expressed systematic relationships in nature. The success of this scientific development depended on two innovations. First was the use of the vernacular as a means of expression (is this plausible? Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton wrote in Latin.) The second was the emphasis on technical applicability.

The Platonic philosophy of the Florentine academy represents something of a retrogression from Cusa. Cusa sought to reconcile philosophical and religious thought in a single system with neither having superiority. Florentine Platonists -- Ficino and Pico --gradually retreated to restoring primacy of theological interest. However, it still represented a continuation of the theme of the problem of knowledge that had been opened by Cusa.

Beauty central link between God, man, and world for Florentine Platonists. God created world with harmony and order. The mind of man is constituted to judge and know beauty.

Common ground with Cusa’s idea of man as a microcosm of the world. The soul, because it is able to know beauty in all of nature, is an intermediary element between god and the world for Ficino. And this is a dynamic intermediation for Ficino as much as Cusa. For both, man becomes an intermediary by acts of knowing. For Ficino, these acts have the specific character of giving form to nature and acting to improve upon the given form. (This notion was well suited to adoption by the artists of the Renaissance.)

Man is representative of all nature for Cusa, so his redemption implies the world’s redemption. Incarnation for Ficino redeems nature as well as men because it guarantees through man’s redemption that man always has the ability to give nature form.

For both Cusa and Ficino, work of the mind has no end. This infinite seeking for more perfect knowledge is not a defect, but what relates man's efforts to God.

For both Cusa and Ficino, Christ has a similar position -- as humanity in general (Cusa) or the idea of humanity (Ficino). Similar philosophy of history in relation to Christianity -- not seeing a sharp polarity between Christian truth and preceding error, but seeing all religions as having a share of legitimacy in that in some sense they worship God.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ernst Cassirer, The Individual and the Cosmos in Renaissance Philosophy, Introduction and Chapter 1, "Nicholas Cusanus"

Introduction: Received view is that the philosophy of the the Renaissance did not share in the main intellectual current of the era, which emphasized the individual and distinctive. Rather, its main concerns were inherited theological ones. The burden of this work is to show that there is a unity of direction in Renaissance philosophy, and that this unity is in fact a "Hegelian focus" of the Renaissance as a whole.

Key doctrine of Neo-Platonic mysticism, which is absorbed into Scholasticism: graduated cosmos from the finite (the world of man) to the infinite (God). Cassirer claims that Cusanus does not deviate from this (which seems like a stronger claim than might be justified). His difference is in focusing on our ability to know God. He finds that the condition for knowledge as it was then conceived -- comparison or measurement -- does not exist for man with respect to God. He sees logic as based on concepts of comparison, which can only tell us about the finite. But there is not a finite series of steps to the absolute.

Feeling is not enough either. God must be known to be loved. So then, a new kind of knowing is required: visio intellectualis. A single act. Hold contrary ideas together. Takes mathematics as its launching point. (It's a bit hard to make anything of this from Cassirer's sketch.)

To understand Cusa, he must be seen as a key figure in the reception of Plato, or rather the recovery of the original doctrine of Plato: a sharp distinction between the sensible and the intelligible, with knowledge of this opposition being the key to all philosophy, all thought.

The medieval Scholastic tradition inherited by Cusa, on the other hand, drew mainly from Aristotle and Neo-Platonism. Aristotle rejected Platonic dualism -- his fundamental idea is that processes of development unify the sensible and the ideal. Neo-Platonism tried to bridge the difference between Plato and Aristotle; it reasserted transcendence, but then retracted it with its key concept of emanation (which is adapted from development) -- that the absolute overflows and thus provides form to matter.

Cusa returns to the fundamental Platonic concepts of separation and participation. On the one had, no series of steps based on what is empirically given can lead us to what he calls the Maximum (This truth constitutes knowing ignorance). In fact, the process of reasoning through comparison can never reach any finality. Nevertheless, this process participates in the ideal in that it seeks determinateness, which is the characteristic of what is ideal. So man can at least legitimately aim to make empirical knowledge ever more precise (This is ignorant knowing).

Aristotelean-Scholastic cosmology: a graded order of four changeable earthly elements and an immutable substance of the stars (whose only change is perfect movement). Cusa rejects any ordering of elements because he does not accept that anything in the world can be closer to the ideal than anything else; instead, all bodies are composed of mixtures of elements. Nor does Cusa accept the possibility of perfect movement for anything in creation, which is always marked by imprecision. This leads Cusa to his central cosmological views -- the earth is in motion, and there is no central unmoving point in the universe (there can only be a metaphysical center -- God -- not a physical one).

Each thing in the universe has its own infinitely complex motion centered on itself. Souls have an analogous individuality. This infinite and irreducible individuality is in both cases the mark of the universal. Individuality is not a limitation; it has positive value. Universal order consists in this infinite variety; so existence participates in the ideal through having infinite individuality. From this, Cusa assigns a positive value even to the diversity of religious rites.

Image of picture that seems to look at observers in every direction -- symbol of god's relationship to individuality. Illustrates visio intellectualis -- intellectual vision -- comprised of unified totality of individual relationships to God.

Incarnation seen not as a temporal event, but as something always happening in very soul -- view adopted from German mysticism, devotio moderna.

Sources of Cusa's thought: devotio moderna, Nominalism (via moderna) and Italian Renaissance's recovery of antiquity. Cusa incorporates these into a realization of the individualism characteristic of the age within religion and philosophy. God can only be grasped through the limitation to an individual view; the truth about God is the totality of views, empirical multiplicity.

Cusa's thought develops from emphasis on Platonic concept of chorismos to that of methexis.

37: Cassirer attributes common cosmological views to Cusa and Bruno. In this point in particular it is clear how much Blumenberg's concluding chapters of The Legitimacy of the Modern Age respond to Cassirer. Blumenberg seems to tend to take for granted Cusa's endorsement of multiplicity upon which Cassirer lavishes attention -- his focus is to distinguish the function of this in Cusa and Bruno -- this is the point of taking such care as well to argue that Bruno was not persecuted for these same doctrines, but for the rejection of the Incarnation which was the systematic corollary of infinite multiplicity for Bruno.

For Cusa, the Incarnation is a systematic requirement. Even to understand that we cannot know God implies a relation that must be mediated by something. This something is Christ, as the general self, the universal content, of humanity.

Cusa sees man as a microcosm of nature -- in this sense, man includes all of nature in himself. Necessitates a break from the medieval notion of redemption as liberation from nature. Instead, all of nature is redeemed with and through man.

Knowledge for Cusa is not a reproduction of ideas, but a creative act of an individual mind, an unfolding, a movement along a chain of ideas.Space and time -- or at least the ability to measure and understand them -- are produced by the mind. Positive evaluation of man's embedding in time, his historical nature. Man realizes his particular nature within time, and in so doing reflects God's nature.

Human beings particular creative function is to give, create, attribute value to things. It is only through judgment of a human intellect that anything has value. Positive function of sensible world -- instigator and material of creative human intellectual activity.