Pranay Sanklecha – New Philosophy Contact

The thing I find most immediately fascinating about Pranay Sanklecha is the title of his 2013 PhD Thesis at the University of Graz, Austria:

“Climate Change,
Theories of Justice, and
The Ethics of Ontology”

“The Ethics of Ontology” sounds a good fit with my “Epistemological Ontology” – there is no absolute ontology independent of what it’s used for, the original meaning and purpose in whoever created it. That’s a matter of ethics, not physical science. Need to find a copy of that thesis. He also has his own The New Philosophy blog project.

Meantime, he published an excellent magazine article in December 2023 – a top-ten philosophers / books for people who don’t know why we need philosophy in our times. Times which look like a collection of enormous existential crises with which we – humanity – seem to be failing to get a grip. Exactly the motive in my own Systems Thinking research proposal, where my title includes systems thinking and cognitive science, but the focus is unashamedly metaphysical, the basis of our knowledge-and-decision-making ecosystem.

And, he leads his philosophy top-ten with Robert Pirsig and his “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM 1974).

The wisdom of a true philosopher.

“Robert Pirsig was a true philosopher. His book [ZMM] is a serious, sustained and passionate “inquiry into values”. With burning intensity, with transparent sincerity, he asks: what is really valuable? What truly matters? […] essential reading for anyone searching for wisdom in [these times].”

My other interest here is, as you probably already know, in the Robert Pirsig Association (RPA) and our current focus on #ZMM50th – the 50th Anniversary of the original publication of ZMM in April 1974. The prompt for his Dec 2023 article above is that 50th anniversary, this year. That quote above is as good as any testimonial the RPA has.

Small interconnected world.

=====

[Post Note: Additionally fascinating, his academic CV and my own research proposal, neither actually mention Pirsig. Yet.]

=====

William Godwin

William Godwin has never previously figured in any of the posts or pages of Psybertron, despite often appearing in conversations arising from the same subjects. (Not to be confused with Mike Godwin of Godwin’s Lawmentioned here several times before. Don’t mention the war, Pike!)

So this is just a placeholder for William Godwin (1756 – 1836).

I have his political treatise, in that unread library:-

Enquiry Concerning Political Justice:
And Its Influence On Morals And Happiness.

William Godwin (1793)

Obviously right in the middle of that same period – where so many were excited by the political possibilities of the French revolution, including the Germans / Prussians in Jena and thereabouts, before reality dawned just in time to be documented and able to survive obliteration by Napoleon.

Often referred to as the first “anarchist” (in contrast to monarchist) he was more what we would think of as liberal / libertarian or “minarchist” –  Government regulation only where necessary, otherwise individual freedom and equality prevail. Aren’t we all?

His name tends to be forgotten because his wife, their daughter and their ongoing entourage became so much more famous. Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and the rest including the connections between the English and German Romantics via Coleridge, Goethe and the post-Kantian philosophers and eventually the Bloomsbury set.

As I say, for now, just a placeholder.

=====

 

Bradley’s Appearance & Reality

I came to F.H.Bradley through Bertrand Russell’s metaphysical ruminations only 5 or 6 years ago (hat-tip Stephen Mumford). It was a conscious effort, because I’d pretty much given-up on Russell after the debacle of Principia Mathematica, from which co-author Whitehead seemed to have learned, but from which Russell appeared never to have recovered (nor from Wittgenstein) and instead morphed into a public political intellectual superstar on pretty flimsy foundations of understanding the world. I noted lots of parallels – in Mumford’s analysis of Russell’s analysis of Bradley – between Bradley’s (idealism) metaphysics and my own thinking these past two decades – very much reinforcing my “nothing new under the sun” agenda at the time (aka Footnotes to Plato, after Whitehead).

I did however buy a hard-back copy of:

Appearance and Reality
– A Metaphysical Essay
F.H.Bradley, 1893, 2nd Ed 1897,
Seventeenth (!) impression 1978.

on the strength of that read, reinforced by several others in the topical “new idealism / new-panpsychism” fashion. It’s been in my library of barely read books ever since.

Earlier this week John Carl, formerly an active participant in the Robert Pirsig-based “MoQ-Discuss” forum, asked me to dig out a copy of the so-called “Copleston Annotations”

The Copleston Annotations

This text is correspondence between
Robert Pirsig and Anthony McWatt
including Pirsig’s annotation of:

Frederick Copleston’s
“History of Philosophy – Volume 8 19th Century Idealism

Simply checking I had the whole file I skimmed the start and end, and found this couple of sentences amongst Pirsig’s concluding paragraphs:

So It has really been a shock to see how close Bradley is to the MOQ.

So no surprise to me to find Bradley close to my own thinking, since I’ve often said Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ) framework remains influential and easy to populate with everything I’ve synthesised since from a thousand other sources to this day.

Both he and the MOQ are expressing what Aldous Huxley called “The Perennial Philosophy,” which is perennial, I believe, because it happens to be true.

Huxley’s perennial philosophy too, oft quoted here.
And he goes on:

Bradley has given an excellent description of what the MOQ calls Dynamic Quality and an excellent rational justification for its intellectual acceptance. It and the MOQ can be spliced together with no difficulty into a broader explanation of the same thing.

Shocked by this, because as he had noted upfront:

… I’ve said before, philosophology isn’t my field …

Pirsig never really attempted philosophical discourse with the philosophy of others – philosophology is to philosophy, as art-criticism is to art – it all came from the Greeks and from eastern or aboriginal thinking anyway. Having extracted his MoQ description, and written his two novels, he chose to emphasize the mindful / attentive / Zen aspect of living philosophy and leave the intellectual description at that. His widow Wendy chose the same emphasis in the posthumous selection “On Quality” too.

Anyway, finding myself with a quiet hour away from any correspondence – in a hospital waiting room whilst my elderly mother underwent a routine procedure – I started to read / re-read Bradley. I am that man again.

One aspect of my “nothing new under the sun” adage, is that I’m not really claiming any originality in the content of my own work. My creativity is in synthesising, integrating, re-organising the language used to suit different questions arising from different people in different everyday contexts. But it really has all been said before. It’s 100% plagiarism, it always has been and there’s a practical limit to how many references you can acknowledge in any one sentence – even in non-intrusive end notes. Who cares? If it’s perennial, it’s probably right. That is surely more interesting?

[Aside, Bradley’s “model” is indeed very close to Pirsig’s MoQ and to my “triple” – for another day, another piece of writing – but the meta-stuff about his own thinking is fascinating.]

Bradley’s preamble in the prefaces (1st and 2nd Ed) and the early / introductory chapters cover much the same self-effacing ground. Firstly his sub-title, which he goes on to explain first in the original preface.

“A Metaphysical Essay” – An Essay? This is a 500 page book.

Neither in form nor extent does
it carry out the idea of a system.
[W]hat I have done is incomplete.
[A] more or less desultory handling of perhaps
the chief questions in metaphysics.

This volume is meant to be
a critical discussion of first principles.
To originality in any other sense
it makes no claim.

I have written for English readers,
and it would not help them much to learn my
relation to German writers.
Besides, to tell the truth,
I do not know precisely that relation myself.

And, though I have a high opinion of
the metaphysical powers of the English mind,
I have not seen any serious attempt
in English to deal systematically with first principles.

We owe [improved understanding] mostly to men
of a time shortly before my own,
and who insisted well … on the great claims
of Kant and Hegel.

From the 2nd Ed Preface:

It is a pleasure to me to find
that a new edition of this book is wanted.
I am encouraged to hope that with all its defects
it has helped to stimulate thought on first principles.

And from the Introduction:

[T]he preconceptions adverse to metaphysics in general.
[T]o understand by metaphysics an attempt to know
reality as against mere appearance,
or the study of first principles or ultimate truths,
or again the effort to comprehend the universe,
not simply piecemeal or by fragments,
but somehow as a whole.

[We’re all metaphysicians, even if in ignorance.]
To say the reality is such that our
knowledge cannot reach it,
is a claim to know reality;
to urge that our knowledge is of a kind
which must fail to transcend appearance,
itself implies that transcendence.
For, if we had no idea of a beyond,
we should assuredly not know how
to talk about failure or success.

I am so bold as to believe that we have
a knowledge of the Absolute, certain and real,
though I am sure that
our comprehension is miserably incomplete.
But I dissent emphatically from the conclusion that,
because imperfect, it is worthless.
And I must suggest to the objector that
he should open his eyes and
should consider human nature.

And I may have given the impression
that I take the metaphysician to be initiated
into something far higher
than what the common herd possesses.
[T]he superstition that the mere intellect
is the highest side of our nature,
and the false idea that in the intellectual
world work done on higher subjects
is for that reason higher work.

Wow! In reverse order:

Yes, we need to use intellect to unravel our understanding of the world, but that doesn’t mean intellect is our most important view of reality.

Strong views lightly held. We absolutely must have a view of how we believe the world really is – ontological commitment – even whilst that view is evolving contingently on new knowledge.

We’re all in this game, there is no opt out, other than ignorance.

It’s about comprehensive (first) principles, abstractions, not about the sum of pieces of knowledge.

We’re indebted to 18th and 19th C Germans.

(As Gödel will show in the future), comprehensive consistency comes at the price of completeness.

And – the whole is about systems
and knowledge of the whole is systematic.

This isn’t new, it’s all been said before.

=====

Pre-Registration of Research

It’s a while since I did any actual “research” in the scientific sense, essentially all my work is with people and their outputs, written or otherwise, and at more abstract levels of principles involved in their observable actions. Last time I actually collected data and analysed it using objective and statistical scientific methods was probably my Master’s project and dissertation, and a few routine organisation / business / market research surveys since.

I’ve been following a movement that says proper scientific research should always be publicly & auditably pre-registered before actually being done, as a guard against researchers only publishing research that meet or directly, impinge upon their prior stated aims. (Example here from Dorothy Bishop @DeeVeeBee) Properly pre-registered, we get to see inconclusive and negative results – or absence of published results – that may often be more valuable to wider humanity than the original directed aims of the funded research. Not just negative findings notice, but even absent or inconclusive ones too – may tell us as much about the flawed philosophy implicit in the research question or the way the research was planned, as much as the explicit “content” of the research.

I just noticed it’s a practice I regularly follow here in my “pre-reviews”.

As I say almost all my work is reviewing and creatively synthesising the work of others and a habit I developed early on was to state pretty explicitly what I thought of the work (and its relevance to mine) before I actually read / viewed / listened to it. Often listing my presumptions / pre-impressions based on prior publicity or on skimming blurbs, intros and end-materials first. Quite independently of specific reviews and analyses, I also often do “position statements” about what I believe up to this point on a given topic. That way people – including myself – can check my honesty when reading and reviews and conclusions I do ultimately draw.

Keep me honest.

=====

Humanistic Cybernetics

Hold that thought.

I have held the view that Cybernetics (since 1946 Macy Conference) was always primarily about human systems involving the “Psyche” (hence my naming my efforts “Psybertron”) The fact that so much visible effort since then has focussed on automation and control of man made systems and “machines” – the easy bit – has completely skewed the wider conception – to the point of no return I fear – that anyone defending humanistic values in the 21st C would automatically (heh!) reject the language of Cybernetics (or Systems Thinking as I prefer it these days).

Someone (in the systems domain) suggested my view – and views of Wiener’s (1948) Cybernetics generally – were somehow contentious? Here I need refer only to his title.

“Cybernetics:
or Control and Communication
in the Animal and the Machine”

Animal before Machine, and control IN not OF the animal (or machine). He’s clearly talking about self-organising, living (self-sustaining) systems where control and decision-making arise internally.

By the time he came to write a new preface 13 years after his original work it is clear that the new discipline of control theory OF mechanistic (albeit complex non-linear) systems had taken centre stage, although he nevertheless reminds us he still has biology, psychology and sociology in his scope.

The original work had arisen within the Harvard Medical School. Despite the shift of focus in the preface to the second edition, the additional chapters in that edition are explicitly about learning, self-reproduction, brains and self-organisation, in addition to the original explicit topic titles of the nervous system, gestalts, psychopathology, language and society.

There is absolutely no doubt this topic was created with the understanding and well-being of the human animal in mind.

=====

More on Psybertron:
This post is effectively one of a connected set of 4.

1 More than (Orthodox) Science ?
https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18146

2 Humanistic Cybernetics ?
https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18210

3 Synergy or Emergence ?
– https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18311

4 What’s in a name (Psybernetics) ?
– https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18326

(All my posts are connected, obviously, but these 4 specifically form a linked thread. They reflect a real-life developing dialogue, but there is a logical dialectic in the argument, so in order, do not pass go, etc.)

=====

Bronowski and Operations Research

Today is Jacob (Bruno) Bronowski’s (official *) birthday and Timothy Sandefur marked the day by sharing his daughter Lisa Jardine’s 2010 documentary “My Father, the Bomb and Me“. Lisa and Bruno are (were) both heroes to me and I’ve mentioned them many times here. Most relevant to that film documentary was Lisa’s Conway Memorial Lecture I blogged about back in 2014 (inc footnotes).

Watching the documentary again today I noticed something I’d not before.

My focus these days is the abstract version of Cybernetics I call Systems Thinking and one of the earlier incarnations was Operations Research. The last time I mentioned that was at this “Community Operations Research” event in memory of John Friend at Lincoln University. (And incidentally, the last time I mentioned Bruno was here at Hull University at last year’s annual Mike Jackson lecture. A number of personnel movements between these two institutions reflect changing fashions in Systems Sciences & Methods in the UK)

Anyway, I noticed that the statistical and Bayesian maths used by Bronowski, amongst others during wartime – to predict bombing damage and kill-rate effectiveness etc – were of course referred to in the documentary as the early days of Operations Research. Hull was his home institution at that time. Small world.

=====

This year’s 2024 Annual Mike Jackson Lecture at Hull University “What Are Humans?” with Charles Foster, 19th March 2024, 6pm. Hat tip Ben Taylor.

=====

(*) Official birthday because of the family history of escaping Nazi Europe from Poland via Germany, to start a new life in the UK meant they lost his actual birth-date and had to assign an effective new one – though Wikipedia doesn’t qualify the actual date. (h/t Tim Sandefur)

=====

The Limits to Science?

Preamble?

How do I come to be writing this post right now?
See the Background “Postamble” at the bottom if necessary 😉

Straight Down to Business:

[START]

The Assertion – In one Sentence –

There are limits to science in the sense that some aspects of the world are beyond science.

(Or alternative prior statements in the background below – “there is more to the real (*1) world than science, some kinds of (real / worthwhile / valuable) knowledge – truths – of the world are more than science”)

The Argument – On one Page:

For now, we’re going to avoid arguing over definitions of words and things per se – and focus on the (multiple / variable / overlapping) criteria we use to distinguish between things (*2). We can come back to definitions when we need to record what if anything we think we’ve agreed. There is no point to dialogue / discourse unless we intend to progress and agree something (*3).

That said we will start with “orthodox” science, on the understanding that however I appear to use it here, implicitly or explicitly, it is moveable during the discourse (as it is under real life evolution of science itself). For now I’m seeing the orthodoxy being about predictable, repeatably observable, objectively measurable criteria either directly in terms of the objects of that science, or indirectly with logical relations between those and the observable objects. (Remember that’s just the distinction I’m making one side of the dividing line above, science itself – as a project and processes – definitively includes plenty of other human creativity, imagination and communication resources too.)

Also I’m talking here of the whole world as the natural world (*4) – everything known or conceived of in the world is natural, even supernatural fictions and myths are created by intelligent beings in the natural world. “Supernatural” effectively therefore means non-existent in the real world, we have no interest in them in this discourse other than as creations of minds in this world.

So as discussed above there are no attempts at definitive definitions in any of the blue, yellow, brown boxes, just descriptive statements. I’m sure we can all think of examples from our own experience, but maybe let’s just think of things that might be seen as subjective / spiritual / humanistic populating the brown box. We’re really focussing on that boundary.

Either there is a boundary, a distinction between what is science and what isn’t, OR you envisage everything subjective / spiritual / humanistic being accepted as being a valid part of an updated scientific orthodoxy. There are no other options. An exclusive or.

So if you go for the first option, that there must always be a dividing line between scientific and other knowledge, then you really ought to care about  the explanatory models for both sides and the nature of the relationship between the two – how they are interact or are related / integrated in real life.

Or, I contend, if you go for the option that simply applying – expanding – the term science to all knowledge, including the subjective (crossing Solms’ “Rubicon” completely), then equally you must care about the explanatory model that makes that so. If you don’t, by expanding your scientific criteria to encompass literally the whole world, you’re effectively saying “anything goes” when it comes to scientific criteria. It devalues the special case of scientific knowledge – it effectively says nothing to call knowledge scientific.

Any other option is denial or ignorance of the issue, or a retreat into the box that suits the practical aspects of your own life, which is fine as a personal choice, but gives you no resources to debate the boundary or what lies beyond.

Do Not Pass Go.

[END]

=====

*NOTES:

The notes can all be (and are) elaborated elsewhere, with references acknowledged, (there is nothing new under the sun, all writing is plagiarism at some level) but for now:

*1 – #OntologicalCommitment
We’re (hopefully, by intention anyway) only talking about the real world. But some of the things that are most fundamental to any world-view are the least well defined in practice. Even in science, time, mass, force, even causation are really only settled by convention. The truths of science are generally explanatory and predictive models of behaviour involving mathematical and often metaphorical objects, even if some of the metaphors eventually reify into reality. However much creativity, imagination and mathematical logic such truths and models involve, and however practically useful they are, the explanatory model is incomplete until properly evidenced assertion of that truth or theory can be followed by:

“and, for now,
that is how I believe
the world really is,
how it really works”

That’s stating the #OntologicalCommitment (after Goldstein). (Think Einstein’s rubber sheets for gravity, say. Quite a lot of science, especially some aspects fundamental physics are pretty well established at the mathematical and predictive / useful value level, but have still never achieved ontological commitment amongst their users, let alone wider public consciousness.)

*2 – #GoodFences
Even with most complex, systematic, apparently comprehensive (but never perfect) world models with a potentially infinite number of things and properties of / relationships between these, at any number of levels of abstraction, every distinction is binary. This not that. The point is not to divide the world – to be divisive – but to be able to recognise and account for all the relationships and processes in play. Every such dividing line or criterion, is one of many that will also intersect with many other, and is subject to revision, exception and re-evaluation. They are #GoodFences (after Robert Frost and G K Chesterton) not rigid barriers to progress. Some such divisions become historically significant, archetypes, ur-types, defining things that get named / symbolised in important theories and models that stand the test of time, but they may all exist in any discourse.

*3 – #RulesOfDiscourse
Beyond scientific, logical and mathematical rules that form causal and explanatory arguments within the evolving body of knowledge, the actual processes of developing and agreeing and evolving these, involves the full gamut of inter-subjective rhetoric, and there are many more rules of constructive behaviour, albeit rules that can be broken and evolved with creativity and good-faith. (See Rules of Engagement).

*4 – #Naturalism
It might seem natural to a scientist, to treat the whole world as the natural world, after all science was the name given to what was previously seen as natural philosophy. In fact it is a choice – a metaphysical choice – to nail nature to the mast, at the top of our edifice. The act of placing it in that position above all, against which we will judge the world and our knowledge of it, gives it paramount / overarching significance in our world view. To emphasise that some even dare to call it #SacredNaturalism. It’s a premise so deep – the turtle on which everything else stands – that to change one’s mind at this point would be more than a Kuhnian paradigm shift, everything would need to be re-written.

(*5 – #SomethingFromNothing
Our discourse above so far avoids any concern for the remaining fundamental question of why and how-come something / anything rather than nothing exists, or what the smallest “atom” of significant difference might be, something rather than nothing. Whether it’s even a meaningful question. But depending on where the discourse goes, the question might arise, so this is just-in-case a placeholder.)

(*6 – #PostPostModernism / #PoPoMo
Again not yet come up in the discourse above, so a just-in-case placeholder. People raising concerns for the brown box above in the context of validity of wider takes on knowledge would typically be branded Post-Modernists or plain weirdos in contrast with the de-facto received-wisdom of Modernists who see the whole as a scientification project. In reality we PoPoMo’s are aiming to reconcile and integrate the two.)

(*7 – #MonismOrDualism
Another just-in-case placeholder. There are many different possible monisms and dualisms, but anyone retreating into one box, may simply be saying the world is actually fundamentally and permanently divided between this box and the vestiges of other box, and it makes no sense to consider relationships between the two.

=====

Post Note: Continuing the original dialogue:

Dennis: My real strength is my experience of relating to and working with people of diverse cultures and mindsets.

Ian: And would you call that science?

Dennis: Absolutely not (laughs).

Ian: So in fact there is real, valuable humanistic stuff beyond science, some might call it wisdom?

QED.

=====

Background / Postamble:

I previously covered this topic – limits to science – pretty comprehensively albeit at a high level of abstraction in a presentation I gave to ISSS in November 2022 – it’s even highlighted in the bullets on the Agenda on page 3. (Now in January 2024, I’d probably update those two bullets under “Focus Mainly About Language” to include not just the ever expanding inconclusive talk on “new” or “definitive” systems definitions and methodologies, to add increasing talk of humanistic, subjective and/or spiritual aspects of systems that fail to connect with those listening in orthodox science mode.) A problem for an IS whose scope is SS – Systems Science(s).

Then at Teesside Skeptics in the Pub (TS-SitP) in December 2022, I delivered a talk entitled “Is Scientific Skepticism Enough” using just two slides and wrote it up as an 8-page “page” here on Psybertron. I’ve since shared the same piece on Academia.Edu as a putative paper, part of formalising more of my existing writing.

In the TS-SitP context at the time, it was a response to a topical question about what it means to “be” – to identify as – a Skeptic, and apart from the identity question, my main thrust was a plea that:

in championing scientific knowledge against ideology and pseudo-science and the like, Skeptics should beware falling into scientism, being ideologically committed to science being the only true answer to anything and everything.

(eg in that still current TS-SitP context / environment, in topical language, Anti-Woke is almost as bad as Woke).

The above includes the basic assertion that there is more to the real world than science, some kinds of (real / worthwhile / valuable) knowledge of the world beyond science. That assertion never goes away, in the sense it keeps cropping up in any debate about the world and our knowledge of it. So, following one such conversation a couple of nights ago, this post is a one page reworked extract of that paper focussing on just that assertion.

(More preamble on worldviews / prior-assumptions etc implicit in the above pieces? Better if read the post and ask questions?)

=====

Post Notes:

Taking the dialogue forward with ISSS and/or SitP?
(Past attempts noted above.)

ISSS Washington conference – maybe a paper or led-discussion workshop?

“Finding Language to join-up those with focus on the science and implementation technologies with those focussing on the humanistic (intuitive / tacit / spiritual / subjective) aspects of systems-in-action.”

Maybe seeing the International Society for Systems Sciences (ISSS) evolving to being the “International Society for Understanding Systems” (ISUS)

=====

More on Psybertron:
This post is effectively one of a connected set of 4.

1 More than (Orthodox) Science ?
https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18146

2 Humanistic Cybernetics ?
https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18210

3 Synergy or Emergence ?
– https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18311

4 What’s in a name (Psybernetics) ?
– https://www.psybertron.org/archives/18326

(All my posts are connected, obviously, but these 4 specifically form a linked thread. They reflect a real-life developing dialogue, but there is a logical dialectic in the argument, so in order, do not pass go, etc. And because they were written as four stand-alone posts, there’s a fair bit of repetition in content and preamble – clearly can condense into one longer paper.)

=====

War and Peace and Anna Karenina

Just a link holding post. Mentioned several times that I consider Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” a great piece of work, being about life, the universe, (God) and everything and yet have failed to get very far through his other famous tome.

Hat tip @RoseDiel for sharing this 2005 review of reading War and Peace by Laura Miller in Salon. Despite the obvious historical and fictional narratives, it’s clearly also about life, the universe and everything.

Me previously on Psybertron (2016):

Anna Karenina is one of those great works, like Tolstoy’s other magnum opus, that I must have started, even read up to a handful of chapters, half-a-dozen times. Already familiar with his “unhappy families” and even Vronsky at the horse race – but always too distracted to read on through the patronymics, familials and informals to actually get the point of greatness. And of course I must have seen two or three film and TV dramatisations over the years, not to mention the meme of recalling Anna everytime I’ve set foot on a snowy windswept railway platform, typically for some reason at Slependen, Oslo, in my memories. Meme upon meme.

I’ve just finished reading the Penguin Classics Pevear & Volokhonsky translation, whose cover blurb includes:

“[T]he vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.”

We probably all know Tolstoy as a “devout Christian” and of course I’m an atheist, rationalist, humanist, so it would be easy to be prejudiced against Levin’s (ie Tolstoy’s) enlightenment. But it’s an enlightenment I feel I share.

I know in fact.

The word may translate as God, but it is God as in “the good” – no superhuman, supernatural, omniscient, omnipotent, causal agent here. Church too, but not as organised religion or ritualised superstition, simply as socially shared knowledge of the good. And knowing that it is good in the collective action of individuals and not in any disembodied rational conception of scientists and philosophers. Beyond words. Rationality is our most powerful tool, but love is greater, being neither thing nor tool.

Good philosophers know this. Good people enact it. “The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ” anyone? Jeez – even good humanists know this.

There’s a lot of agriculture and “what about the workers?” in Karenina. Oh, and – spoiler alert – sadly, Anna doesn’t make it through her paranoia. Too great for me to do it justice in any actual review or selection of quotes.

Simply, a great book.

So, on to “War and Peace“? Maybe after some writing.

=====