Sunday, January 13, 2013

Reason in History

Animism did not die with the men that endowed inanimate things with life and soul. It survived and flourished in different areas in different forms with different denominations without being known as animism. However, its role altered greatly from that of primitive animism, and from one area to the other; and that, its implications, its importance also varied immensely. [1]

In poetry, it came to be known as ‘personification’ or embodiment: attributing human form, personality, and characteristics to things animate or inanimate. [2] Here in poetry, personification is taken, and made use of as an effective vehicle of poeticizing; and, rather, extolled as one of the finest artifices of poetic argument. Clearly, personification, never claiming to be real and understood literally, aims at achieving poetic accomplishment and beauty.

In folk lore, animism disguises itself in various ways, and has a fatalistic bend. Either it is ’ہونی‘ (That what is destined), ’قسمت‘ (Fate), or ’وقت‘ (Time), or like, it appears as a body-less living deity having knowledge of everything, passing judgment, and dispensing justice accordingly. Here it comes to represent an urgent need and longing for justice; and thus acquires the projected-role, and semblance of a just ‘ruler,’ or ‘just creator.’ Besides, the roots of all this, taken as belief, may be traced to fatalistic religions and philosophies, and hence must needs be criticized. And, of course, in contrast to poetry, in folk lore, this way of using ‘ready-made allusions’ cannot be dispensed with simply as allegorical and symbolic expressions. It does have far-reaching consequences; rather, it affects human world immeasurably.

In pagan as well as religious speculation, and in philosophical speculation also, animism happens to develop into anthropomorphism, and thereby spreads to other areas of human thought (where it is also known as ‘panpsychims’).

Anthropomorphism is defined as the ‘transfer of human shape and characteristics to the external forces of nature and attributing them to mythical beings (gods, spirits, etc).’ [3] However, to these may be added many a concept, particularly philosophical concepts. Such concepts appear as formless soul – animism with or without anthropomorphic dimensions. These are, in fact, animated concepts: they know everything (omniscient), capable of doing everything (omnipotent), pass judgments, settle disputes; in short, they play God. This may be denoted as conceptual animism, or the other way round, animated conceptualism; and, this too cannot be set aside merely as ‘anthropomorphic language.’ [4] Here it means or is made to mean what it says. When ‘Fate’ is expressed as ‘Judge,’ it is taken as judge, judge incarnate.

In historical thought, or philosophy of history, animism turns out in the form of ‘تاریخ فیصلہ کرے گی’ (History will judge); history as judge, and all the more, in many other roles. And due to the miracle of animation, History (with capital H) comes to life, and ‘anthropomorphized’ – and, last but not least, acquires the semblance of a ‘just ruler,’ and thus alters and changes its course inestimably.

The first and the foremost question of philosophy of history has been: Is there a plot in history [5]; and most of the philosophers in the East, give a ‘theistic answer’; that this plot ‘results from the will of God, or of the gods,’ and hence ‘only dimly discernible.’ “At any rate, there is a secret hidden behind the surface of events. It has to do with reward and punishment; with a kind of divine balance, a balance of justice.” [6]

This theological answer presented history as the ‘God’s design’; and after the ‘naturalistic revolution against God,’ it was replaced by ‘Nature’s design.’ “Almost everything else was left unchanged. Theology, the Science of God, was replaced by the Science of Nature; God’s laws by the laws of Nature; God’s will and power by the will and power of Nature (the natural forces); and later, God’s design and God’s judgment by Natural Selection. Theological determinism was replaced by naturalistic determinism; that is, God’s omniscience and omnipotence were replaced by the omniscience and omnipotence of Natural Sciences.” [7]

This is the anti-theistic answer.

One concept after the other is created, animated, and anthropomorphized; and attributed with a set of requisite characteristics (to fulfill no doubt, one’s own design or designs). As we reach Hegel, in this family of animated concepts, another baby is born and baptized as ‘History.’ Hegel’s ‘the philosophy of HITORY’ bears the word history with capital letters. Another dethronement occurs. History succeeds Nature. Omniscient and omnipotent History determining the fate of human beings! A little ahead in Marx, History declares itself as an Absolute Monarch. “So we get laws of History; powers, forces, tendencies, designs, and plans, of History”; [8] and an all-powerful “historical determinism.”

This is what Sir Karl Popper ‘call(s) by the name historicism’: ‘the theory that there is plot in history,’ whether ‘theistic or anti-theistic.’ [9] However, Hegel’s History has a plot of its own: it is determined by Reason; and Reason and History are determined, in turn, by animism and anthropomorphism. The magician’s incantation knows no bounds: Hegel’s own words:

“The only thought which Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the world; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.” [10]

Hegel’s Reason is not a human faculty, a social phenomenon, it “is substance, as well as Infinite Power; its own Infinite Material underlying all the natural and spiritual life which it originates, as also the Infinite Form – that which sets this Material in motion. On the one hand, Reason is the substance of the Universe; viz., that by which and in which all reality has its being and subsistence. On the other hand, it is the Infinite Energy of the Universe; since Reason is not so powerless as to be incapable of producing anything but a mere ideal, a mere intention – having its place outside reality, nobody knows where; something separate and abstract, in the heads of certain human beings.” [11]

Sorry for this lengthy citation; but the incantation to animate Reason continues:

“(Reason) is the infinite complex of things, their entire Essence and Truth. It is its own material which it commits to its own Active Energy to work up; not needing, as finite action does, the conditions of an external material of given means from which it may obtain its support, and the objects of its activity. It supplies its own nourishment, and is the object of its own operations. While it is exclusively its own basis of existence, and absolute final aim, it is also the energizing power realizing this aim; developing it not only in the phenomena of the Natural, but also of the Spiritual Universe – the History of the World.” [12]

Finally the incantation achieves its aim: “That this “Idea” or “Reason” is the True, the Eternal, the absolutely powerful essence; that it reveals itself in the World, and that in that World nothing else is revealed but this and its honour and glory – ” [13]

And what comes out of all this incantation is “that History, and above all Universal History, is founded on an essential and actual aim, which actually is, and will be, realized in it – The Plan of Providence; that, in short, there is Reason in History, must be decided on strictly philosophical grounds, and thus shown to be essential and in fact necessary.” [14]

This “essential and actual aim” of Providence, as Karl Popper says, “actually is realized, in the results of history, it might be suspected that this realization has taken place in the actual Prussia.” [15]

Thus Hegel’s ‘theistic historicism’ (blended with animism and anthropomorphism) “looks upon history – political history – as a stage, or rather, as a kind of lengthy Shakespearian play; and the audience conceive either the ‘great historical personalities,’ or mankind in the abstract, as the heroes of the plays. Then they ask, ‘who has written this play?’ And they think that they give a pious answer when they reply, ‘God.’ But they are mistaken. This answer is pure blasphemy, for the play was (and they know it) written not by God, but, under the supervision of generals and dictators, by the professors of history (like Hegel - KA).” [16]

In this play, Reason plays havoc through a simple process of equations. [17] For Plato, Ideas were outside the mind, and were real. Hegel took it as Ideal = Real. Kant described ‘Ideas of pure Reason’ as inside the mind, Hegel adopted it as Idea = Reason. Both these equations give rise to another one, Real = Reason, which “allows Hegel to maintain that everything that is reasonable must be real, and everything that is real must be reasonable, and that the development of reality is the same as that of reason. And since there can be no higher standard in existence than the latest development of Reason and of the Idea, everything that is now real or actual exists by necessity, and must be reasonable as well as good. (Particularly good . . . is the actually existing Prussian state.)” [18]

This is how ‘ultra-rationalist’ Hegel makes use of all this historicism, animism and anthropomorphism in the service of ‘irrationalism and totalitarianism.’ [19] This is how Reason in History concludes in Unreason in History. This is how this ‘animation story’ not only amuses it producers and consumers – the profundity-philosophers – but plays an immensely important role in shaping our history, our destiny also.

In contrast to this Platonic, in a sense Leibnitzian, [20] and extremely unreasonable Reason, there is human reason, which is fallible, which knows its limitations, but which believes in trial and error, and believes in pluralist view of history, i.e. there is no History (with capital H), no Universal History. In other words, “there is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life.” [21] This human reason tells us that there is no plot in history, that history has no meaning. It is only we who, with the help of our reason, can give meaning to history.

Notes and References

[1] The main thesis of this paper, though, originally, is not mine; however, its extension and application to philosophical concepts rests with me. The idea of ‘animism’s survival’ came to my mind as a flash, via ‘anthropomorphism’ as defined in a ‘Dictionary of Philosophy’ (Edited by I. Frolov, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984).

Later, I came to know that F. A. Hayek had already had this view: “. . . we ought to distinguish between the even more primitive attitude which personifies such entities as society by ascribing to them possession of a mind and which is properly described as anthropomorphism or animism . . .” [Law, Legislation and Liberty, Vol.1, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1982; P.27]

[2] See ‘Personification’ in A Dictionary of Literary Terms, J. A. Cuddon, Penguin Books, 1986.

Examples abound. Only a few just to instantiate:

(i) A line of an English poem reads: ‘Little sorrows sit and weep.’
(ii) بڑے شکوہ سے جاتا ہے قافلہ دل کا (محمد یحیٰ خاں آصف)
(iii) اشک پر اشک عیادت کو چلے آتے ہیں (مرزا تعشق)

[3] See ‘Anthropomorphism’ in Dictionary of Philosophy, op.cit.

[4] See F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, op.cit., PP.26-27

I. Frolov’s Dictionary of Philosophy states: “Anthropomorphism is also typical of individual scientific concepts (e.g. power, energy, management, etc.). However, this “semantic” anthropomorphism does not exclude their objective content.”

[5] Karl R. Popper, A Pluralist Approach to the Philosophy of History, in Roads to Freedom, edited by Eric Streissler and others, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1969.

[6] Ibid., P.182

[7] Ibid., P.182

[8] Ibid., P.182

[9] Ibid., P.182

[10] G. W. F. Hegel, The philosophy of HISTORY, translated by J. Sibree, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1956; P.9

[11] Ibid., P.9

[12] Ibid., P.9

[13] Ibid., PP.9-10

[14] Quoted in The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. II, by Karl R. Popper, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1973; PP.47-48

[15] K. R. Popper, The Open Society . . ., Vol. II, P.48

[16] Ibid., P.271

[17] Ibid., P.41

[18] Ibid., P.4

[19] See F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, op.cit., P.32

[20] Leibnitz’s ‘monads’ and Hegel’s Reason seem to belong to the same stock.

“Leibnitz calls his force-substance monad . . . a purely principle: substance is hence a force of immanent activity . . . such monad is . . . a “mirror of the world”; it contains the whole universe as a representation within itself; in this consists the living unity of all things.” [A History of Philosophy, by Dr. W. Windelband, translated by James H. Tufts, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1938; P.423

“. . . the monad develops its states from its own inner nature, has need of no other thing, is sufficient unto itself, and therefore deserves the Aristotelian name, entelechy.” [History of Modern Philosophy, by Richard Falckenberg, translated by A. C. Armstrong, Jr., Progressive Publishers, Calcutta, 1960; P.271]

[21] K. R. Popper, The Open Society . . . , Vol. II, op.cit; P.270

Note: This paper completed in December (10-27) 1995 was written for the symposium, ‘Reason in History,’ and read on December 27, 1995 in Pakistan Philosophical Congress’ 31st Session held from December 26-28, 1995, in Lahore.

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