One of the most important insights I brought back from the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy in Athens (3-10 August, 2013), was the realisation that whereas there are certainly plenty of philosophers alive and practising today, in an innumerable number of specialised branches of the craft, there are very few, it would appear, who are genuinely focusing on achieving a truly global overview of the entire range and breadth of the worlds’ philosophical traditions. The Congress was divided in its programme into many different sections, in which different scholars delivered papers each according to their expertise, including areas such as Philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of scinece, feminist philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of education, Buddhist Philosophy, moral psychology, phenomenology, social philosophy, metaphilosophy, comparative and intercultural philosophy, Jain Philosophy, ethics, aesthetics and philosophy of art, Business ethics, philosophy of economics, history of philosophy, philosophy of globalisation, ontology, bioethics, Taoist philosophy, Byzantine philosophy, philosophy of history, theories of knowledge and epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, philosophy of culture, contemporary philosophy, philosophy of logic, philosophy of development, philosophy as way of life, modern and contemporary Greek philosophy, philosophy and literature, philosophy of communication and information and philosophy and media, Chinese Philosophy, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Islamic Philosophy, philosophy of action.. All these areas of thought had learned representatives who sat in parallel sessions over the 7 day period of the congress, delivering often highly specialised papers in their own language, often only understandable by a few specialists who happened to be sitting in the room at that time, able to speak the language in which the paper was being delivered. There were philosophers present from innumerable countries around the world from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australasia. In addition, there were innumerable specialised philosophical societies having meetings of their own under the aegis of the overall World Congress, including such diverse bodies as the Polish Philosophical Society, the International Association of Women Philosophers, Conference on Philosophical Societies, Afro-Asian Philosophy Association, International Society for Value ethics, International Association of Greek Philosophy, International Association of Jaspers Societies, International Plato Society, North American Society for Social Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy (Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences), Russian Philosophical Society, International Society for Metaphysics, Asociacion de Filosofia y Liberacion etc.… The resulting experience of attending this event was like stepping back into a Herman Hesse novel, where the protagonist is faced with a choice of innumerable doors each of which offered an adventure of ideas and life possibilities. There were few plenary sessions, but for this author, the most moving of them took place at the sacred sites associated with early Greek philosophy that we had the good fortune to visit. One evening, on the evening of August 6th, Hiroshimna Day, we attended the site of Plato’s original academy, in a park in Central North West Athens, and head two brilliant lectures, one by Prof Enrico Berti of Italy, about the Relevance of Aristotle’s philosophy today, who gave a brilliant justification for why he was talking about Aristotle at the Academy, since he confidently argued that Aristotle had been undoubtedly the most brilliant students to have graduated from that august institution. Prof. Noburu Notomi, hailing from Japan, gave a further excellent account of the Platonic idea of the Ideal and its reception in East Asia, in Japan and China, over the course of many centuries. Notomi argued that Plato’s thought had been favourably received since it coincided for the large part with findings of Buddhist, Taoist and Shinto idealism, which had arrived at the same kinds of insights as Plato had, albeit independently of one another. A further such evening saw us hearing similar lectures at the sit eof Aristotle’s original Lyceum, which he set up as an independent school of philosophy on the death of his teacher, Plato.
One of the fundamental insights I have brought back from Athens therefore, is the unique significance of our own little centre for global philosphical studies here in Scotland, at the Castle of the Muses, nestling amidst the mountains on Loch Goil in Argyll. I have realised that what is being attempted here is pretty special, namely the comparative and evaluative juxtaposition of the entire range of the world’s philosphical and religious and spiritual traditions, with the irenic purpose of achieving harmonisation, reconciliation and mutual epistemological calibration between each of the diverse philosphical and theoretical systems of thought and action which mankind ha so far devised. Most other philosophers seem to have given up this task, it would seem, if indeed they ever conceived it, and are content to become specialists in some branch of the complex tree of knowledge which philosphical thought luxuriates in. It is certainly a commonplace to say that such a work would be beyond the powers of any one man or woman. Mircea Eliade, who in the last century attempted something approximating to this quest, and whose oeuvre reads like an encyclopaedic attempt to trace the interconnections of all possible nuances of religious and philosophical thought, at last was defeated in the attempt and claimed by death, that old friend who lays the work of all philosophers aside by and by in the end. But the difficulty of the task does not mean it should no be attempted. On my way to Athens I passed by the Dominican church in Naples, where St Thomas apparently had his final; mystical insight into the limitations of philosophical discourse, and after which he stated that all his pervious works were so much straw and chaff, and never wrote again, saying that the ineffable mysteries he had glimpsed could simply not be put into writing. But writing about philosophy, is not the same as living philosophy, and this silence did not mean St Thomas ceased to “be a philosopher”. Kierkegaard had the same point of view, as summarised by Boris Groys in his important Introduction to Antiphilosophy (Verso, 2012): “Kierkegaard’s philosophising has an introductory tentative and preparatory character because Kierkegaard rejects the right of any philosphical text, even his own, to assert its validity as a bearer of truth. His cerebrated formulation that “subjectivity, inwardness is the truth” means that truth cannot be “expressed” still less printed as a philosophical text. Limits are thereby drawn to philosophical discourse; it can no longer be the bearer of truth or embody truth in itself. A text only becomes true by the agreement of truth-giving subjectivity”.
The work of a philosophical school or a philosophical institute therefore, such as IIPGSP, cannot be reduced to the production of texts alone, or essays, but rather must encompass the whole lives of those whom it touches, and the living spirit which lies behind the words and texts which we grapple with, must become radiant in our lives.
For this purpose, for the past several years, IIPSGP, in the Castle of the Muses, begins each day with a silent mediation, followed by a celebration of lives and works of a sequence of famous sages and saints, one from each of 12 traditions into which the world’s philosophical and spiritual thinkers have been divided, as follows:
1. Christian
2. Buddhist
3. Hinduism
4. Humanists, scientists,
5. Pagan
6. Islam
7. Judaism
8. Taoism, Shintoism,
9.Bahai, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrians
10. Esotericists, magicians, occultists, theosophists
11. Freemasonry
12. Women scholars, thinkers, artists, writers, scientists etc.
Anyone who comes to stay at the Castle off the Muses, on a short or long retreat, knows that we begin each day with a reading from one or more of these sages, who have been carefully chosen after many years of study as representing the flower of their own intellectual and spiritual traditions.
As a contribution towards the fullest possible flowering of the work of IIPSGP then, and for the benefit of those unable to be with us in persona at the morning mediations of the Castle, these essays will henceforth summarise a few comments about each day’s saints or sages, as seems most appropriate ot the times we are living through.
Today, September 12th 2013, one day after the anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11 in 2001, we therefore comment the following list of sages and Saints:
Firstly, for Christians, Cardinal Pole, a famous British Roman Catholic theologian who was from the Welsh Marches region. For Buddhism, we commemorate Subhakarasimha, 713-741 of China: The T’ang Dynasty Esoteric School was introduced by the three Mahasattvas. For Hinduism were celebrated the life and works of Sankara, arguably the greatest of all Hindu philosophers, and in an ashram of whose Order IIPSGP itself was situated from 2000-2003, on the borders of Shropshire and Powys, at Forden, Powys, called Abhedashram. For culture and the arts we celebrated Octavio Paz, Mexican poet, 1914-1998, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. For pagans, Ptolemais. And for Islam, Ibn Muqlah, 886-940 AD master calligrapher of Baghdad, he became Vizier thrice and fell from office each time, dying finally in prison; he invented the Naskhi, Thuluth and Tawqi scripts of Arabic. For Judaism we celebrated the work of Tramer, Moritz 1882-1963 an expert on child psychiatry. For Chinese thought, Wang Chun-Kao, Taoist teacher of immortality and for Sikhism, Bhai Mardana, a devotee of Guru Nanak who went with him on his 4 international voyages; he died eventually while travelling in Afghanistan. For esoteric thought we celebrated the work of Progoff, Dr. Ira, who founded the school of keeping a spiritual diary as a way of monitoring and recording one’s intellectual and existential unfolding. For freemasonry we celebrated the work of Lepelletier, L.M. a member of the Lodge of 9 Sisters. Finally, for women, we celebrated the life of Margaret Fuller Osoli 1810-1850, from the USA, a scholar and member of the transcendentalist circle of thinkers that Emerson and Thoreau were also involved with. Her life reads like the script for an extraordinary Hollywood blockbuster movie and perhaps someone ought to make it even now. After a brilliant education, partly by her father, she became closely involved in the circle of Emerson and Bronson Alcott in Concord and Boston, in the 1830’s, and held a famous series of Conversations in which she invited famous thinkers and local savants to discuss issues such as art, education, philosophy and women’s rights. She was friends with Sophia Peabody, Lydia Maria Child and other campaigners for women’s equality. In 1840 she joined Emerson in editing the Dial, until 1842. In 1844 she published Summer On The Lakes and then went to New York to write as a literary critic for the New York Tribune. In 1845 she published Woman in the 19th Century, and then in 1846 published Papers on Literature and Art, before leaving on an extended tour of Europe. In London she became close friends with Harriet Martineau and then travelled to Paris and then on to Rome in 1847. In Italy she fell in love with a radical aristocrat called Giovanni Ossoli and lived with him for two years, before finally marrying and having a song together, Angelo, in 1849. She helped defend the newly proclaimed Roman Republic in 1849, which was then besieged by French forces loyal to Emperor Napoleon 3rd. With her husband, they managed to flee to safety in Florence when the Republic was overthrown. In Florence, in 1849, she became close friends with Elizabeth Barret Browning and found time to write up a history of the short-lived Roman experiment with republicanism in 1848. Harassed by the police, suspected of political intrigues, she and her husband and child boarded a ship to sail back to New York, but shortly before the ship reached harbour, it was wrecked by a fierce storm, and her body was never found, neither her husbands nor their child. The extraordinary pathos of this story, which would undoubtedly make a super movie if any scriptwriters have the time to draft it, reminds us that sometimes sages and saints and savants have to pay with their lives for being someway ahead of the spirit of their times. The restless spirit of Margaret Fuller and her husband Giovanni d’Ossoli should perhaps remind us that the real conditions of women and men are still not at peace, still not equal, and in many parts of the world, women still live in chains of unfreedom and savage repression that would bring horror to the minds of such 19th century reformers as these.
The work of the Castle of the Muses and the work of IIPSGP then, will not be done until the ghosts of Margaret Fuller and her family can rest in peace. The work of Sankara, which we also celebrate this day, provides some kind of metaphysical underpinning which should make this work possible, and is in total harmony with the insights of the great Athenian philosopher, Plato, from whose school in Athens we have just returned, and whose ideas also found harmonisation in the American school of transcendentalists which Margaret Fuller Ossoli was such a unique exemplar of. The problem of course arises when one seeks to apply the metaphysical insights of divine unity into political and institutional structures. Republicanism is of course not the only solution, and some more conservative commentators, beginning with Aristotle favoured rather a mixed constitution, including elements of monarchical governance, as exists in the current British constitution. It is for this reason that IIPSGP has proposed the creation of a Council of Monarchs to help restore common sense, reason and diplomacy back into global affairs, instead of mob rule, chaos and continual anarchy. These maters will be considered in more detail when we also give a description of the site of Aristotle’s original Lyceum, recently visited in Athens. AS international diplomacy tries to resolve the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where the strident voices of demonisation and denunciation cloud the rational possibilities of seeking common ground and moderation, it might be worth recalling that Aristotle always argued that diplomacy and rational discourse were always preferable to military violence.
Finally it should be noted that on this day, September 12, 2013, the Church of Wales has approved the creation of Women Bishops, and given that Wales is where IIPSGP was based for some 10 years, and the Church in Wales was the much loved home of many of our spiritual adventures, from the little church in Montgomery where the tomb of Magdalen Herbert is to be found, mother of poet George Herbert and philosopher Lord Herbert of Chirbury, to the little island of Bardsey, where the Isle of the Saints was once visited in pilgrimage by thousands annually, and which some Druids claim is the site of Merlin’s magical glass tower, we cannot help but celebrate that common sense and spiritual reason has prevailed in the magical principality of Wales. Well done, Cymru !