The Human Eros: Eco-ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence

The Human Eros: Eco-ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence

THOMAS M. ALEXANDER
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 456
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0c0w
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  • Book Info
    The Human Eros: Eco-ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence
    Book Description:

    The Human Eros: Eco-ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence explores themes in classical American philosophy, primarily that of John Dewey, but also in the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Santayana, and Native American traditions. The primary claim is that human beings exist with a need for the experience of meaning and value, a "Human Eros." Our various cultures are symbolic environments or "spiritual ecologies" within which the Human Eros can thrive. This is how we inhabit the earth. Encircling and sustaining our cultural existence is nature. Western philosophy has not generally provided adequate conceptual models for thinking ecologically. Thus the idea of "eco-ontology" undertakes to explore ways in which this might be done beginning with the primacy of Nature over Being, but also including the recognition of possibility and potentiality as inherent aspects of existence. I argue for the centrality of Dewey for an effective ecological philosophy. Both "pragmatism" and "naturalism" need to be contextualized within an emergentist, relational, non-reductive view of nature and an aesthetic, imaginative, non-reductive view of intelligence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5122-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-24)

    The essays gathered here, spanning over two decades, represent my own attempts to explore what may be called an “aesthetics of human existence” in terms of an ecological, humanistic naturalism.¹ They include extensions of my earlier interpretation of the philosophy of John Dewey as well as studies of the thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson and George Santayana. I have also tried to establish connections with Asian philosophy, especially Buddhism, and with Native American wisdom traditions. The overall trajectory of these writings is to contextualize the ideas of “pragmatism” and “naturalism,” as popularly understood, within a broader and deeper philosophy of...

  5. Part I: Nature and Experience
    • ONE THE AESTHETICS OF REALITY: The Development of Dewey’s Ecological Theory of Experience
      (pp. 27-53)

      The period between Dewey’s emergence as a major philosophical voice and his becoming the leading figure in the movement that became known as “pragmatism” is not well understood. That it was something of a mystery to Dewey himself is evident by the prominence it has in his intellectual autobiography, “From Absolutism to Experimentalism.” In 1887, with the publication of hisPsychology, Dewey, rather than Royce, could well have been called the crown prince of American idealism. In 1903, with the appearance ofStudies in Logical Theory, Dewey was recognized as the head of the Chicago School, which was understood as...

    • TWO DEWEYʹS DENOTATIVE-EMPIRICAL METHOD: A Thread through the Labyrinth
      (pp. 54-71)

      In teachingExperience and Nature, I once had my students do a one-page writing assignment after having read both versions of Dewey’s first chapter, “Experience and Philosophic Method.” The question was, “What is Dewey’s Denotative-Empirical Method?” They were forewarned—did not Dewey himself feel compelled to rewrite the whole first chapter for the second edition?¹ But in reviewing their responses I was reminded of the old story (told in Rumi’sMasnavi) of the blind men and the elephant: the elephant is like a tree trunk, like a snake, like a rope, like a large flat leaf, like a tree trunk,...

    • THREE BETWEEN BEING AND EMPTINESS: Toward an Eco-ontology of Inhabitation
      (pp. 72-102)

      Philosophy today stands in a problematic relationship to wisdom. Introductory texts still relish definingphilosophiaas “the love of wisdom.”¹ But, as anyone reading on discovers, the ideal of wisdom itself is long gone. In its place is the view that philosophy provides exceedingly clever and conflicting answers to puzzles that do not particularly relate to the conduct of life or the discovery of its profoundest meanings. Most of those puzzles have to do with the problems of the justification of beliefs, putting philosophy in an auxiliary relationship to the project of knowledge. The inquiry into the nature of rational...

    • FOUR THE BEING OF NATURE: Dewey and Buchler and the Prospect for an Eco-ontology
      (pp. 103-132)

      American philosophy has been dominated by the theme of “Nature.”¹ From Edwards to Emerson to Dewey to Dennett, American thought has variously invoked Nature. But to articulate a philosophy of Nature is not thereby to espouse a form of “naturalism.” In fact, philosophies undertaken in the name of “naturalism” seem to have a different temperament than those that begin with thethoughtof Nature as such. As a theme, “Nature” invites an expansive mood for reflection, while “naturalism” sounds constrictive and combative. “Nature” disposes the mind to musement, “pondering,”theoria, Denken—to becoming Emerson’s “transparent eyeball.” “Naturalism” has something of...

  6. Part II: Eros and Imagination
    • FIVE THE HUMAN EROS
      (pp. 135-158)

      I wish here to explore the relation between our desire to exist meaningfully through action and the question that this poses for philosophy. My thesis is simple: We are erotic beings. Our Eros, however, is neither divine nor animal. It is distinctively human: We are beings who seek meaning imaginatively through each other, and the locus of this transformative encounter is the community. This model of human nature contrasts with the dominant view in analytic philosophy of humans as “minds” consisting of “states,” as purely “epistemic subjects” whose primary function is thought to lie in generating propositional claims about the...

    • SIX PRAGMATIC IMAGINATION
      (pp. 159-179)

      Pragmatism originated as a movement that sought to clarify meaning in terms of action. We recall the phrasing of Peirce’s famous maxim: “Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.”¹ The effort to clarify this maxim might be said to constitute the subsequent history of pragmatism. Whereas there was a tendency in pragmatism to interpret consequentialism in a positivistic sense, it was systematically avoided by its main developers, Peirce, James, Mead, and Dewey, because they...

    • SEVEN JOHN DEWEY AND THE MORAL IMAGINATION: Beyond Putnam and Rorty toward an Ethics of Meaning
      (pp. 180-206)

      The last decades have witnessed an important series of changes in Anglo-American philosophy, not least of which has been the revival of an interest in the classical phase of American pragmatism. The work of the pragmatists seems once again to speak to the current philosophical dilemmas. Former “analytic philosophers” like the late Richard Rorty, Joseph Margolis, and Hilary Putnam came to embrace some form of neopragmatism. By and large, however, this revival has come in the domain of epistemology and the debate on realism. I would like to show here how a reappraisal of an aspect of pragmatic moral theory...

    • EIGHT EDUCATING THE DEMOCRATIC HEART: Pluralism, Traditions, and the Humanities
      (pp. 207-224)

      Though Dewey is frequently recalled primarily as an educational theorist, it would be better to remember him as a philosopher who located every aspect of his thought within the general problematic of the nature and purpose of the democratic life. Dewey’s theory of education is guided by his conception of what a democratic culture must be. Every political and educational theory reflects fundamental commitments about human nature and what constitutes a well-lived or meaningful life. In this essay, I intend to sketch a portrait of Dewey’s ideal of democratic culture and to discuss its bearings upon the role of the...

  7. Part III: Aesthetics of Existence
    • NINE ʺLOVE CALLS US TO THINGS OF THIS WORLDʺ: Santayana’s Unbearable Lightness of Being
      (pp. 227-243)

      One of the most fascinating and totally unproductive exchanges between two major American philosophers commenced with Santayana’s review of Dewey’sExperience and Natureand Dewey’s rather testy rejoinder, “Half-Hearted Naturalism.” Santayana’s review was perversely insightful, highlighting in Dewey’s metaphysics just about everything Santayana detested about America: pragmatism, metaphysics, idealism, romanticism, optimism, the busy foolishness of industrial democracy, naivete. Dewey’s outlook was irredeemably “boyish” and “near-sighted,” focusing on the human foreground rather than upon nature, which herself had no foreground or background. Dewey’s “naturalism” was tainted with the loathsome bacillus of idealism; it lacked a discipline of spirit in which nature’s...

    • TEN MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS WITHOUT END: The Intertwining of Nature and Spirit in Emerson’s Aesthetics
      (pp. 244-262)

      In many ways Chinese and Western philosophy offer a series of vivid contrasts going all the way back to their respective origins, so that the very idea of philosophy itself stands in contrast. The West begins with the Greeks and their speculative wonder at nature. The original question for them is: What is the originating principle of nature? This prefigures the central concern of Western philosophy with knowledge and science. The origin of Chinese philosophy focuses upon fundamental questions of political and ethical philosophy. The original question for them is, How can we discovery the Way? These two different origins...

    • ELEVEN CREATING WITH COYOTE: Toward a Native American Aesthetics
      (pp. 263-283)

      In this essay, I want to address the problem of creativity largely through the eyes and voices of Native North American traditions. The theme of creativity, however, is so deeply tied up with fundamental commitments of the West that I will have to postpone the examination of the Native American traditions for a brief synopsis of what I take to be the key schematic structures or “tropes” that dominate Western discussions of “creation.” (Indeed, the term “creation” predisposes us already toward a certain way of understanding coming-to-be; “origination” might be a better general term in which “creation” represents one way...

    • TWELVE TRICKSTERS AND SHAMANS: Eros, Mythos, and the Eco-ontological Imagination
      (pp. 284-300)

      This essay is at once an effort to present something of a synopsis of views I have been developing over the past decade as well as to articulate that aspect of them that falls under the area ofaisthēsis, by which I mean the “aesthetic” reconceived as ecstatic, transformative existence.Aisthēsisis a mode of participatory existence in which the immediacy or texture and symbolic depth of the world stand forth with illuminated intensity, defining in its transitory and metamorphic way both world and spirit.¹ It is at once a concrete actualization, a full engagement, an awakening of the world...

  8. Part IV: Spirit and Philosophy
    • THIRTEEN SANTAYANAʹS SAGE: The Disciplines of Aesthetic Enlightenment
      (pp. 303-328)

      In his “General Review” at the end ofRealms of Being, Santayana observes that “my philosophy is like that of the ancients a discipline of the mind and heart, a lay religion.”¹ I intend to take this remark seriously and to explore what “a discipline of the mind and heart” means. Santayana was a careful writer, so already we should remark on those three key words: “discipline,” “mind,” and “heart.” This theme provides a guiding focus for understanding Santayana’s later work and illuminates what might appear to be the excessively eclectic nature of his ontology. In his intellectual autobiography, “General...

    • FOURTEEN BEAUTY AND THE LABYRINTH OF EVIL: Santayana and the Possibility of Naturalistic Mysticism
      (pp. 329-351)

      Among the thinkers of the past century who offer themselves to the future for its reflection, Santayana must stand out as a singular figure, one whose thought is dedicated to the overarching possibility of the spiritual life undertaken without religious faith or metaphysical dogma. Among the throngs that fill the philosophical bestiary of the twentieth century, Santayana may be the one genuine contemplative of note. The majority of doctrines dominant in the century have been directed either toward the goal of action (Marxism, pragmatism, existentialism) or the problem of knowledge, truth, and meaning (pragmaticism, positivism, analytic philosophy, phenomenology). Genuinely contemplative...

    • FIFTEEN THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE POSSIBLE IN JOHN DEWEYʹS A COMMON FAITH
      (pp. 352-391)

      It is more than an understatement to say that philosophy today is not associated with “spirituality.” Professional philosophers disdain the topic. Some may try to approach it with a philosophical method, analytic or phenomenological, that is not itself inherently spiritual but cognitive. Those philosophers writing within a spiritual tradition—for example, people like Søren Kierkegaard, Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber, or D. T. Suzuki—are segregated as “religious thinkers” or, like Emmanuel Levinas, seen as leading double lives. Otherwise the term “spirituality” suggests the range of New Age nostrums seeking to fill the void left by abandoned faiths and vapid materialism....

    • SIXTEEN EROS AND SPIRIT: Toward a Humanistic Philosophy of Culture
      (pp. 392-422)

      “Philosophy and Civilization” is one of Dewey’s most important—and most neglected—essays. It is unsettling to anyone who wants to think of Dewey primarily as a “pragmatist,” since Dewey says the aim of philosophy should be to deal with the meaning of culture and not “inquiry” or “truth.” He says, “Meaning is wider in scope as well as more precious in value than is truthm and philosophy is occupied with meaning rather than with truth” (LW, 3:4). Truths are one kind of meaning, but they are only an “island” lying in “the ocean of meanings to which truth and...

  9. Bibliographic Essay on Resources for Native American Thought
    (pp. 423-430)
  10. Index
    (pp. 431-436)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 437-442)