San FranciscoVeteran gay activist and writer Arthur Evans has just published a new, gay-positive book on philosophy, entitled Critique of Patriarchal Reason. Publication of the book was aided by an award of $6,941 from the S.F. Art Commission, as part of its program of grants to individual artists and writers. The book includes original artwork by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro.
"I worked on this book for nine years," said Evans. "It takes the spirit of the Stonewall era of gay liberation, as I personally experienced it, and applies it to the great philosophical questions. Among other things, the book provides an eye-opening account of the gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein."
Evans said that the S.F. Art Commission deserves credit for supporting art that speaks directly to the lesbian and gay community. "Even today," he added, "this type of support is a rarity in America."
Evans has been a San Franciscan for more than twenty years, and a gay activist for nearly thirty. He did graduate work in philosophy at Columbia University in New York and has published two previous books on gay history and culture.
Pietronigro, the artist for Critique of Patriarchal Reason, has been a resident of San Francisco since 1977. On two occasions, he produced San Francisco's popular "Art in the Park." He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1996. "My work," says Pietronigro, "is a mix of traditional and nontraditional media, using painting, public art, multimedia, and installations."
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Arthur Evans was born in York, Pennsylvania, on October 12, 1942. His father was a Scottish immigrant of Welsh descent. After dropping out of elementary school, the father worked most of his life on assembly-lines, the last in a chain factory. His mother, who had a high-school education, ran a small beauty shop out of a front room in the family house. The father was a violent alcoholic who routinely battered both wife and children, and smashed household furnishings. Both parents are now dead. Evans has a brother, Joseph, eight years older, who is a salesman in Michigan.
Evans graduated high school in 1960, receiving a four-year scholarship from the Glatfelter Paper Company in York County to study chemistry at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. While at Brown, Evans and several friends founded the Brown Freethinkers Society, describing themselves as "militant atheists" seeking to combat the harmful effects of organized religion. The Freethinkers picketed the weekly chapel convocation at Brown, then required of all students (even though Brown is a secular institution), and urged students to stand in silent protest during the compulsory prayer. National wire services picked up the story, which appeared on the front page of a local York newspaper. As a result, the Glatfelter Paper Company informed Evans that his scholarship would be canceled. For help, Evans turned to Joseph Lewis, the octogenarian millionaire who headed the national Freethinkers Society. Lewis threatened the paper company with a highly publicized lawsuit if the scholarship were revoked. The company relented, the scholarship continued, and Evans changed his major from chemistry to political science. During a summer recess from Brown, Evans participated in his first political demonstration, a Black civil-rights march at the York County Courthouse.
Although obstreperous politically, Evans remained closeted sexually. Realizing from about the age of ten that he was gay, he felt depressed and isolated for more than a decade thereafter, not knowing any other person who was gay. Throughout both high school and college, he often thought of suicide. In 1963, after completing three lonely years at Brown, he read an article in Life magazine reporting that many "homosexuals" lived in Greenwich Village in New York City. The article prompted him to withdrew from the homophobic environment at Brown and move to the Village. He described it as the best move he ever made in his life.
New York City
In 1963 Evans discovered gay life in Greenwich Village, and in 1964 became lovers with Arthur Bell (later to become a columnist for the Village Voice). In 1966 Evans was admitted to City College of New York, which accepted all his credits from Brown University. He changed his major from political science to philosophy and became active in the anti-war movement. He participated in his first sit-in on May 13, 1966, when a group of students occupied the administration building of City College in protest against the college's involvement in the Selective Service System. (A group picture of the students, including Evans, appeared the next day on the front page of The New York Times.)
In 1967, after graduating with a B.A. degree from City College, Evans was admitted into the doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia University, where he specialized in ancient Greek philosophy. He participated in many anti-war protests during these years, including the celebrated upheaval at Columbia in the spring of 1968. In the same year he also participated in the protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. During this time, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg had a powerful influence on the formation of his values.
While at Columbia, Evans joined the Student Homophile League, founded by Nino Romano, although he was still fairly closeted. In late June of 1969, patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall unexpectedly launched a three-day street riot in response to a routine police raid, an event that marked the beginning of the modern phase of the gay liberation movement. Evans was not present at the Stonewall Riot, but some weeks later, he and his lover, Arthur Bell, joined the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), a newly-formed group that proudly proclaimed itself to be gay, countercultural, and revolutionary. Within GLF, Evans and some friends created a cell called the Radical Study Group to examine the historical roots of sexism and homophobia (however, the word "homophobia" itself was coined later, in 1972, by George Weinberg). Many of the participants in the Radical Study Group became published authors.
A number of GLF members soon became dissatisfied with the organization, complaining that it lacked a coherent, ongoing program of street activism. At the suggestion of GLF member Jim Owles, about twelve people met in Arthur Bell's Manhattan apartment on December 21, 1969, and founded The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). Besides Jim Owles, the principal architects of the new group's structure were Marty Robinson, Arthur Bell, and Evans (who wrote the statement of purposes and much of the constitution). Of the four, all but Evans are now dead. GAA, inspired by Marty Robinson's personal examples, spearheaded the practice of "zaps" in gay politics. (Zaps are militant, but non-violent, face-to-face confrontations with homophobic persons in positions of authority.) Evans was often arrested in such actions, participating in disruptions of local business offices, political headquarters, local TV shows, and the Metropolitan Opera. In November 1970, Marty Robinson and Evans appeared as guests on the Dick Cavette Show, the first militant gay activists ever to appear on national television. Ironically, although frequently facing down police, Evans had not yet come out to his parents. Having been informed ahead of time by Evans that he would appear on the Cavette show (but not told why), his parents called all their neighbors and friends, encouraging them to watch the show. Evans later regretted his handling of the matter.
In 1971 Evans and his lover Arthur Bell, by then a columnist for the Village Voice, separated on bitter terms. During the trauma of their break-up, Bell wrote a critical account of GAA, including a personal attack on one "Paul Cliffman," a pseudonym for Evans (Dancing the Gay Lib Blues, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1971). Evans conceded that he had been self-centered and inconsiderate, but not dishonest and manipulative, as Bell contended. Despite the rancor of the break-up, Evans and Bell were later reconciled as friends. Bell, regretting the harshness of his earlier attack on Evans, dedicated his second book to him (Kings Don't Mean a Thing, William Morrow & Company, New York, 1978). Bell died from diabetic complications in 1984.
By the end of 1971, Evans had become increasingly alienated with urban life in general and the academic world in particular. In addition, he had also lost two successive election bids for president of GAA. In early 1972, he withdrew from Columbia after finishing all requirements for the Ph.D. degree in philosophy except for the dissertation. With a second lover, Jacob Schraeter, he left New York in April 1972 to seek a new, countercultural existence in the countryside. Using Seattle as a base, Evans, Schraeter, and a third gay man formed a group called the Weird Sisters Partnership, and began homesteading a small patch of forest land on a remote mountain in northeastern Washington State, a site they named New Sodom.
During the winter months in Seattle, Evans continued research that he had begun in New York on the underlying historical origins of the counterculture, particularly in regard to sex. In 1973 he began publishing some of his findings in a new New York gay journal called Out, edited by the late Ernest Cohen. (Later, after Out folded, the series was continued by Fag Rag, a radical underground gay paper.) During this period, Evans also wrote numerous pieces on the political strategy of zapping, for the Advocate, a national gay newspaper.
In 1974, Evans and Schraeter, unsuccessful in their efforts to make a permanent settlement at New Sodom, moved to San Francisco, where Evans still lives. (Schraeter returned to New York in 1981, and died from AIDS in 1989.) In the years since, Evans has had three lovers, Donald Hershman (still alive), Josť-Luis Moscovich (still alive), and Billy Amberg (who died of AIDS in 1992).
In the fall of the 1975, Evans formed a new San Francisco group, the Faery Circle. It combined neo-pagan consciousness, gay sensibility, and ritual play. In 1976 he gave a series of public lectures, entitled "Faeries," based on his research on the historical origins of the gay counterculture. These endeavors helped generate what is now known as "the Radical Faeries." Evans was also active in the early stages of Bay Area Gay Liberation (BAGL-San Francisco's belated version of GLF and GAA) and the San Francisco Gay Democratic Club (which later became the vehicle through which Harvey Milk was elected as San Francisco's first openly gay office-holder). In the same period, Evans and his friend Hal Offen opened a small Volkswagen-repair business, which they named "the Buggery."
In 1978 Evans published (through Fag Rag Books) his Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. The book is an exposť of the role of homophobia in the European witch hunts. It is still in print after 19 years.
In the late 70s, Evans adopted the nom de plume of "the Red Queen," distributing a series of highly controversial street leaflets in San Francisco's gay Castro District. The leaflets satirized what Evans regarded as butch conformity and the spread of bourgeois values among gay men. In his first leaflet, entitled "Afraid You're Not Butch Enough?," Evans facetiously referred to the new, butch-conforming men of the gay ghetto as clones, occasioning use of the later widely-used term "Castro clones."
In 1984 Evans directed a production at the Valencia Rose Cabaret in San Francisco of his own new translation, from the ancient Greek, of Euripides' play Bakkhai, dealing with the Greek god Dionysos. In 1988, this translation, together with Evans' commentary on the historical significance of the play for gay people and women, was published by St. Martin's Press in New York under the name of The God of Ecstasy.
In 1986 Evans was re-admitted by the Philosophy Department of Columbia University for the purpose of completing his Ph.D. degree, but was unable to find any member of the faculty who would sponsor a dissertation having a gay perspective. As a result, he decided not to pursue the degree, working instead on a trilogy of his own which propounds a new gay philosophy of life. The trilogy's first volume, Critique of Patriarchal Reason, was published in July 1997 by White Crane Press, supported by a grant from the San Francisco Art Commission.
Although HIV-negative, Evans has been active in AIDS politics in San Francisco. (He has lost over 100 friends and acquaintances to the disease.) He was arrested twice while demonstrating against the drug-maker Burroughs-Wellcome, accusing them of price-gouging, and once against a local TV station, charging them with defamation of people with AIDS. He is currently at work on the second and third volumes of his philosophical trilogy.
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Summary of Arthur Evans' Critique of Patriarchal Reason
Introduction. What Is Philosophy?
Chapter 1. One and Many
Chapter 2. Right and Wrong
Chapter 3. The Myth of Mathematics
Chapter 4. The Illogic of Antiquity
Chapter 5. The Illogic of Early Modernity
Chapter 6. The Illogic of the 20th Century
Chapter 7. Logic and Misogyny
Chapter 8. Logic on Stilts
Chapter 9. The Descent to Language
Chapter 10. Logic vs. Language
Chapter 11. The Logic of Dr. Strangelove
Chapter 12. The Metaphysics of Science
Chapter 13. The Science of Dr. Frankenstein
Epilog. Beyond Logic, Mathematics, and Science
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What Is Philosophy?
Summary: This chapter reclaims philosophy as an art, against the scientific model that now mesmerizes many academic philosophers. The chapter also outlines the book's overall goals: to expose the patriarchal mythology embedded in scientific "rationality," and to develop a more humane and inclusive view of reason.
The Greek roots from which the word "philosophy" is derived imply that philosophy is a matter of both passion and intellect: "philo-" from the verb philein, which means to attend to, care for, nurture, and love; "-sophy" from the noun sophia, which means skill, learning, cleverness, knowledge, and wisdom. The passionate pursuit of knowledge or wisdomthis is the literal meaning of our word "philosophy."
Like all human passions, philosophy is restless. It is never satisfied, but ever looks beyond the partial to the more complete, beyond the taken-for-granted to the not-so-obvious. Unceasingly and everywhere, it relentlessly asks all comers, like Socrates in ancient Athens, "Why?" Without such restless passion, philosophy would have no great motivation and so no great accomplishments. In fact, it would soon be reduced to a mere mental game. Mental games certainly have a role to play in human experience, but they are not philosophy.
Conversely, philosophy draws on the ability to thinkrationally, critically, and systematically. Without such critical thinking, philosophy would soon be reduced to enthusiasm for some belief system or social movement. Belief systems and social movements certainly have a role to play in human experience, but they are not philosophy.
The philosopher is passionately motivated but critically discerning, a man or woman who yearns for the whole truth while yet remaining skeptical of any purported example of it. Confronted with any assertion or any form of activity, an inquiring mind can always ask "What does this assume?" and "What follows as a consequence from this?" The motivation to do so systematically for the sake of greater knowledge is philosophy.
Through the critical and systematic examination of assumptions and implications, philosophers sometimes succeed in creating whole new systems of their own, but they can never remain completely satisfied with such systems. If they do, either the passion has failed or the critical thinking been blunted. In either case, the system may indeed continue, but philosophy has ended.
So then, we may define philosophy as the critical and systematic examination of presuppositions and implications, motivated by a passion to know. As such an endeavor, philosophy can obviously be applied to any area of inquiry and to any question. Over the past few millennia it has in particular often been applied to certain basic, recurring questions, a practice that has given rise to certain specialized names for philosophy when these questions are asked. When applied to the question "What is being?," philosophy is called ontology; when "What is knowledge?," epistemology; when "What is right?," ethical theory. But in all these cases, philosophers are really asking the same questions: "What are the presuppositions?" and "What are the implications?"
The Narrowness of Anglo-American Academic Philosophy
During the last century a number of academic philosophers in Britain, North America, and elsewhere have taken the position that philosophy is of a much narrower scope than I have just outlined. They see philosophers as paid professionals exercising technical expertise on subjects of special interest. Accordingly, philosophy should not tread on the toes of other disciplines that are equally specialized. "Who am I as a philosopher to ask critical questions in nuclear physics?" advocates of this school typically ask. "I'll leave that to the nuclear physicists, who are much better qualified than I am on that score."
Ironically, but not surprisingly, many of these same philosophers have found that the special fields allegedly appropriate to philosophical inquiry have been steadily shrinking. So, for example, with all the sciences and arts now removed from their purview, these philosophers typically spend most of their time debating only questions about language and logic, and regard anything else as "not philosophical." But one could use their own criteria to object even to these fields. Why not yield language to linguists? Why not yield logic to mathematicians? Aren't they better qualified in these fields than philosophers? Indeed, why even have departments of philosophy at all in universities?
The great fallacy of much recent Anglo-American academic philosophy is its refusal to see that one can always ask substantive questions. For example, even if a person is not learned in nuclear physics, he or she can still ask "Is nuclear physics worthwhile?" This is a question about nuclear physics but one that cannot be answered within nuclear physics. There is no theory or set of experiments that a nuclear physicist can point to in order to answer this question, since the question is about the very propriety of such experimentation and theorizing in the first place.
To answer the question of whether nuclear physics is worthwhile, we first have to specify what we mean when we say something is "worthwhile." Next we have to compile the salient historical record of nuclear physics. Finally we have to evaluate that record according to our criterion of what is worthwhile. Now, describing the historical record of nuclear physics can be done through observation, but developing a criterion of what is worthwhile is a question of value. We have to examine various standards of "good" and "bad" and then decide which of these standards we will use to judge the effects of nuclear physics. In other words, there is no way to answer the question "Is nuclear physics worthwhile?" without making some value judgment as to what we mean by "worthwhile."
Is it possible to make such value judgments? Yes. Who, then, is to make them? Anyone who wishes to! Can these value judgments in turn be systematically analyzed for their presuppositions and implications? Yes. And what do we call doing that? Clearly not nuclear physics, though such analysis may have implications for nuclear physics. What then? What, indeed, if not philosophy?
The above example with nuclear physics can be applied by analogy to any human endeavor. Hence a great many important and interesting questions remain to be asked about meaning and value, touching every aspect of human life. Yet these questions generally go unaddressed by most Anglo-American academic philosophers, who all the while agonize over what they regard as the steadily narrowing field appropriate to philosophical inquiry. In their quandary they have forgotten the great lesson of the philosopher Socrates. He taught that everything human involves a basic question of value and that the examination of such values constitutes the mission of philosophy. Socrates encapsulated this broad view of philosophy with the remark that has ever since been associated with his name:
For human beings, a life unexamined is not
Philosophers with the narrow, modern view have another failing: they underestimate the historical role of philosophy as a generator of new sciences. If philosophers throughout the ages had followed the advice of recent Anglo-American academics, most of the sciences themselves, which these academics so admire, would never have arisen in the first place. Physics and astronomy, for example, were once known as natural philosophy and were initiated by Greek and Latin philosophers speculating about things not yet known with precision. What are now called sociology and psychology are offshoots of more recent philosophical speculation. However clumsy the original speculations of these philosophers may appear in hindsight, they nevertheless addressed human attention and imagination to new avenues of knowledge. Should we assume today that no new sciences will ever appear? If not, isn't it possible that philosophic speculation may yet pave the way for them as it has so often in the past? And if that is so, what becomes of the notion that philosophy must be limited to language and logic?
Alienated from much of philosophy's past rich history and in massive retreat from the most pressing of contemporary issues, Anglo-American academic philosophers increasingly find that they have nothing of substance to say. Within the last half century, only a few academic philosophers have undertaken to buck this trend. Those who have done so have generally been marginalized by other academics.
More recently, a ray of hope has appeared: many women in the field, moved by feminist concerns, are now insisting that philosophy once again take up issues of substance. An outstanding example is Andrea Nye's lucid, ground-breaking book Words of Power. The book argues that formal logic, seemingly the most objective part of philosophy, actually embodies patriarchal values.
Many of Nye's academic male peers have reacted with dismay to her claim. "If sheer logic is not absolute," they exclaim, "then what is?" Despite their umbrage, Nye is right. This present work confirms and builds on her pioneering insights.
The Popular Hunger for Meaning
Despite the current sterility and insularity of Anglo-American academic philosophy, the general public remains highly responsive to the raising of what are basically philosophical questions. Just look at the great abundance of popular books on meditation, metaphysics, science fiction, the occult, reincarnation, etc. Naturally enough, academic philosophers look down on such books, regarding them as unprofessional and not really philosophical. But when judged in terms of Western philosophy's varied currents during the past 2,500 years, these topics are indeed philosophical. In fact, the history of philosophy shows that the narrowness of modern academic philosophy is untypical.
As to the fact that the popular books are "unprofessional," the academics are right. But they overlook the reason: those who have formal training in philosophy are schooled to disdain such topics. Hence a gap has developed, with those having an interest in the great substantive questions of philosophy on one side, and with those having the greatest formal training on the other. Thus has philosophical substance been sundered from philosophical technique, a breach that has served to diminish both.
A Personal Example
I myself have experienced first-hand the narrowness of Anglo-American academic philosophy, an experience that is directly related to the writing of this work. From 1967 to 1971 I was a graduate student in the doctoral program in philosophy at Columbia University in New York. By the spring of 1969 I had completed all course requirements and qualifying exams for the Ph.D. degree and had begun writing a dissertation in ancient Greek philosophy.
Judged by my academic record of the time, I was swimmingly "on track." But by 1971 numerous factors had led me to feel disenchanted with both Columbia University in general and the philosophy department in particular: the complicity of the university's administration in the Vietnam War; a violent police assault on the campus, engineered by the administration; the narrowness and dogmatism of the sect of "analytic philosophy," which then prevailed (and still does) at Columbia; and the uninspiring personal example set by many of my own professors.
In early 1972 I withdrew from Columbia, gave away all my books in philosophy, left New York for the West Coast, and became an auto mechanic. In the meantime, I also wrote two books on gay history and culture. In 1986, fourteen years after I withdrew from Columbia, I wrote a letter to the philosophy department, inquiring if I still had any options with them. To my surprise, the department generously responded that it would re-admit me, and that if I finished my dissertation, I would be granted the degree.
A serious problem, however, remained. Although retaining my doctoral research notes after leaving Columbia, I had no further interest in my original dissertation topic. Instead, I wanted to develop a whole new approach to philosophy that would be congenial to feminism and gay liberation, reflecting my own personal and philosophical growth during the 14 years since I had left Columbia. No one in the philosophy department, however, was willing to sponsor such a dissertation. So I have written this present work instead, both for my own personal fulfillment and as a contribution to the common good.
Opening the Doors
This book is the initial installment of an intended three-volume series dealing with certain basic themes in Western philosophical consciousness in light of the approach of a new millennium. The general aim of the entire series is to help heal the breach between substance and technique that now characterizes much of Anglo-American academic philosophy. To that end, the series forthrightly seeks for truth in the face of some of the great philosophical questions still asked in popular works, such as "What is the difference between reality and illusion?," "How can we distinguish knowledge from opinion?," "What happens when we die?," and "What does it mean to live a worthy human life?" But in discussing such substantive questions, the series also draws on formal methods of argumentation, as well as past developments in the history of philosophy. In this way, the series seeks to cull what is best both from the popular interest in the substantive questions of philosophy and from the specialized techniques of the professionals.
This installment in particular, Critique of Patriarchal Reason, focuses on two questions: "What does it mean to experience reality?" and "What does it mean to be rational?" The main argument developed here is this: formal logic, higher mathematics, and science have all fostered a crippling concept of human rationality that fails to do justice to the richness of human experience. The book demonstrates how these biases have emerged historically, and illustrates their harmful impact on women, gay people, indigenous Third-World cultures, and the natural environment. Many philosophers are discussed in detail, with a special emphasis on Ludwig Wittgenstein, a crucial transition-figure in 20th-century philosophy. (Chapters seven through ten uncover a surprising connection between Wittgenstein's theories of logic and language on one hand and his conflicted attitude toward his homosexuality on the other.) On the basis of its examination of the life and thought of these various philosophers, the book concludes with an appeal: let us jettison the crippling ideal of patriarchal reason and open ourselves to a more inclusive understanding of human rationality.
Why, the reader might wonder, does the book call this crippling concept of reason "patriarchal"? The history of the noun "patriarchy" provides the answer. From antiquity to the present, this word has had various meanings: "the rule of the fathers," "the rule of the male founders of the tribes of Israel," "the rule of the early Christian bishops," and "the dominance of men in the family and society." Behind these various meanings lies a simple historical fact: men have been in charge. Accordingly, this book uses the adjective "patriarchal" in a simple and broad sense, as a synonym for "male-supremacist."
But why the term "patriarchal reason"? Because in 1781, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant published one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy, Critique of Pure Reason. Hoping to reconcile the possibility of religious belief with the methods of the new sciences, Kant undertook to map out both the powers and the limits of human reason. In doing so, Kant just assumed that the highest manifestations of human reason occur in a rather limited areathe fields of formal logic, higher mathematics, and natural science. This narrow assumption about what is most rational represented a significant break with the broader views of the Renaissance humanists before Kant, and was also at odds with notions found in many non-Western societies. Although later Western philosophers typically rejected many of Kant's dogmas, most have unthinkingly adopted his narrow assumption about the highest manifestations of human reason. This book will show that so-called "pure reason" is actually only one band on the spectrum of human rationality, and a narrow, male-oriented band at that.
I have tried to make the material presented here as accessible to the general reading public as possible, without at the same time oversimplifying the questions at issue. Every chapter begins with a summary of its contents and a recapitulation of the last chapter, and there is a glossary of philosophical terms at the end of the book. Nonetheless, certain sections may at first seem intimidating to readers who are unaccustomed to sustained intellectual argument. As with any skill, however, so the skill of thinking philosophically improves with practice. The key to understanding in philosophy, as in life, is patience and perseverance.
Because this work discusses, in a new light, the thought of numerous past philosophers, it may prove useful as a resource book for introductory philosophy classes. Nonetheless, readers should not expect to find here some sort of authoritative overview of the thoughts of others. To the contrary, what follows is an original philosophical work in its own right, dealing with the nature of human experience and rationality, and developed with an eye toward the approach of a new millennium.
One might object here, of course, that a millennium is a very artificial thing. For example, if our number system were based on 8 instead of 10, the year we now symbolize by "2000 A.D.", which is the last year of the present millennium, would instead be "3720 A.D." But for all that, anniversaries of any kind are important to human beings because they provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our past accomplishments and future goals. If a great many people begin to think that a certain kind of anniversary is especially important, then in fact it will be, and for no other reason than that people so regard it. A millennium, then, is much more than so many rotations of the earth around the sun, counted in a number system that happens to be based on 10. A millennium is also a cultural and psychological construct in the consciousness of the people for whom it is important. If that importance succeeds in generating a philosophical discussion, then a millennium has philosophical significance.
The Art of Philosophy
If you have studied philosophy before, you may want to sit down and read this book through from beginning to end as you would a novel. But if you do not have such a background, you may want to skip around, concentrating at first on those chapters that are initially of most interest to you. Alternatively, you might just let the book fall open at random, read a paragraph or so, close the book, and then think and feel about what you have just read. Do you agree or disagree? Does it ring true to your own experiences and feelings? How would you frame an objection to the argument, then an objection to the objection, etc.?
As with all works on philosophy, there will probably be only a small part of this one that you completely agree with. In fact, if you should find yourself agreeing with much of what you read in this book, it probably means that you are not thinking critically enough. Ironically, although philosophy at its best attempts to give substantive answers to substantive questions, the real value in any given work of philosophy does not lie in the particular answers it offers but in its ability to stimulate a worthy dialogue with its readers. In the end, the process of thinking and feeling is what is most important, and not any particular argument in itself. Therein does philosophy differ from the sciences, and to its greater credit, for philosophy is an art.
As part of its effort to reclaim philosophy as an art, this book displays a number of paintings and photographs by San Francisco artist Frank Pietronigro. What is the connection between these images and the text? The best way for you, the reader, to answer this question is to ask yourself these further questions: What are the feelings that underlie the various shapes and lines in these images? What are the feelings that underlie the various words in the text? How do the feelings expressed in the one medium relate to those expressed in the other? What new ideas of my own come to mind after I reflect on this interplay of feelings, images, and words?
In asking yourself these questions, you will mirror the creative process that gave rise to this book. Whenever I write, even on the most abstract of matters, I always begin with feelings, which I seek to articulate in concepts and words. When I succeed in doing so, the result is a text. Likewise, many visual artists first begin with feelings, which they seek to express in shapes and colors. When they succeed in doing so, the result is a painting or drawing. Although using different media, both the writer and the visual artist partake of a common process, the creation of a meaning that is rooted in feeling.
Although artist Frank Pietronigro and I use different media, we share a certain common sensibility in looking at human experience. As you trace out the connections in this book between images, words, and feelings, you will encounter this common sensibility through different lenses. If you persevere in making these connections, you will likely make an interesting discovery: the common experiential content that lies behind both visual art and text, although quite meaningful, is not something that can be easily captured by any logical or scientific formula. And that is part of the message of this book.
The Personal is the Philosophical
The philosophical interpretations presented here have arisen from decades of reflection on my own personal experiences and on the major historical events happening in the world around me. Hence they have been influenced (although not determined) by the fact that I am a white, 54-year-old gay man, born and raised in a working-class family, and formally educated in philosophy. In addition, I am a 60s-inspired rebel and an American citizen, to name but a few of my personal circumstances. But regardless of my own particular background, I seek, like every thinking person, an understanding of the greater world around me and of the role of the human species within it. This book has emerged as a result of that greater seeking.
I invite you to come with me now for a journey into the world of philosophy. My hope is that in taking up these pages you will find yourself stimulated to raise questions in your life that you might not otherwise have asked and, even more, to conceive of entirely new ideas of your own that go beyond those presented here. If that should come to pass, then regardless of whether we agree on the specific arguments presented here or not, we will have participated in a worthy dialogue.
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