Friday, December 19, 2014

José Pablo Feinmann on how Descartes decapitated Louis XVI, Philosophy Here and Now (Temporada 1-2) (Spanish-language video)

This is Chapter 2 of the first season of Argentine philosopher José Pablo Feinmann's public TV series Filosofía aquí y ahora, “T1 CAP 2. Sacar la filosofía a la calle” Encuentro n/d Filosofía y Praxis YouTube 02/04/2013:

"The gods don't make philosophy," he says, because they don't have to worry about dying. But mortals make philosophy because they do have to understand our mortality.

He cites Jorge Luis Borges' (1899-1986) story "El Inmortal," with an aside that not everything about the (notoriously conservative) Borges is good, but the part he cites is. Which has to do with the idea that immortals don't need to say goodbye, because they know they are likely to see each other again. But with mortals, we know that any parting might be our last. Thus, Feinmann concludes, that every moment in a human life is important and precious, while no moment in the life of an immortal has particular significance because they will be endlessly repeated.

He cites Heidegger for the idea that people live in a "state of interpretation." (Blogging must be kind of a concentrated form of that!) And he reflects on aspect of authenticity, a key concept for Heidegger.

Philosophy, Feinmann argues, "is a system of formulating questions." (Which is why, I would add, that studying philosophy is one good kind of preparation for studying law.) One of those famous questions with which philosophy - and theology - wrestle is, "If history is in the hands of God, what do humans do?" He uses that as the title for the second section of this presentation.

In discussing what he sees as the stranglehold Christian theology and the Catholic Church had on European thought during the Middle Ages, Feinmann cites Michel Foucault's (1926–1984) idea of "pastoral power" as one of the most dictatorial owers known to humanity. Foucault talked about ways in which modern institutions like psychotherapy and prisons have inherited the power in the modern world that once belonged to the priest in confession. Feinmann uses this as a way of encouraging his listeners to think about the breaks, transformations and continuities between the way Western philosophy has regarded about truth and power, thereby stressing the long connecting links between philosophy old and new and the sometimes surprising relevance of old ideas.

In the first Chapter, Feinmann talked about how his perspective would be an Argentine one. In this segment, he begins a segment on what was the nature of the rupture that Rene Descartes made with medieval Christianity by talking about Christopher Columbus' (1451—1506) "discovery" of America and the resulting massacres of native peoples.

Beginning in 1637, he explains, Rene Descartes put the human individual in the center of thought rather than God. And he says, "From 1637 to 1789 was a very short time. When Descartes is writing the Discourse on the Method [1637], he was cutting of the head of Louis XVI [1754-1793]." And he teases future segments by talking about the progression from Descartes to Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831), who called Descartes a "hero of thought," and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). He throws in Copernicus (1473–1543), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) and Galileo (1564–1642) into the mix with Descartes and the Renaissance as beginning to establish the notion that humanity is the Subject of history, the Subject that makes history. And the French Revolution was a key moment in which people started acting in a more collective and conscious way as the Subject(s) of history.

Feinmann discusses how Descartes thought was "subversive" by challenging the authority of medieval theology, the Catholic Church and the Inquisition, the latter a topic that looms larger in the history of Latin America than in that of the United States.

And he uses the situation of Descartes, who worked in the more liberal environment of the Netherlands, to talk about the importance of freedom of thought and how "totalitarian" governments suppress it. This segment stresses the interaction of thought and changes in society during the period leading from Descartes to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He even works in Marie-Antoinette (1755-1793) and her statement upon being informed that people were starving because they didn't have bread, "Let them eat cake!" ("Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!")

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