Philip Kitcher quotes and sayings
February 20, 1947
If there are to be appropriate judgments about what questions are significant, you need both the informed views of scientists who know what has been achieved and what future developments are promising and the reflective judgments of representatives of different groups who can identify what kinds of information are most urgently needed.
I don't think readers of Mann have overlooked the fact that he was a great ironist, but they have tended to see the irony in particular parts of the novella, and to miss it in others.
Anxieties about ourselves endure. If our proper study is indeed the study of humankind, then it has seemed-and still seems-to many that the study is dangerous. Perhaps we shall find out that we were not what we took ourselves to be. But if the historical development of science has indeed sometimes pricked our vanity, it has not plunged us into an abyss of immorality. Arguably, it has liberated us from misconceptions, and thereby aided us in our moral progress.
Was Mann himself fully aware of all the facets of his irony? Probably not - any more than Shakespeare was fully aware of all the riches subsequent critics have found in his plays.
One of the things I want to do in the book is to explore how philosophy can be done in literature. I start doing that in the first chapter, by introducing the idea of "philosophy by showing". What literature/philosophy shows is how to look at some important facets of life in a new way, thus changing the frame in which subsequent philosophical argument proceeds.
Think about Mann's own daily routine , read the extant diaries and the letters in which he discusses the novella's themes, and it won't be so obvious that the attraction to Tadzio is completely unprecedented; it also won't be obvious that what Aschenbach wants is full sexual contact.
Britten's opera tends to see things in simpler terms. It portrays an Aschenbach who wants a richer form of sexual fulfillment, and who is hemmed in by the social conventions to which he subscribes. But Visconti's use of the Mahler Adagietto is perfect for what I take to be Aschenbach's sexual desire.
There are many critics whose work I greatly admire. Even though I diverge from T.J. Reed in several important ways, I've learned greatly from his writings on Mann.
The more you read the novella, the more you should wonder, I think, which judgments are to be taken as bedrock.
We find in the novella a seamless interweaving of at least two narrative voices, one of which is that of an observer so sympathetic that his language appears to be Aschenbach's own, the other of which is superficially celebratory but undercuts Aschenbach by means of an ironic detachment.
Mann was conscious of adopting different perspectives in different parts of the novella, but my guess is that there are plenty of passages in which the resonance of the words he chose struck him as exactly right.
Using the Adagietto of Mahler's Fifth is one of the touches of pure genius in Visconti's film , since it corresponds perfectly to Aschenbach's yearnings and to his circling walks around Venice.
Wilhelmine Germany was hostile to the expression of same-sex love - and, of course, Mann would have known of the fate of Oscar Wilde. His early reading of Platen's poetry, and, probably when he was in his early twenties, of Platen's diaries, introduced him to a form of sexual expression he found profoundly congenial. It's not quite Platonic.
Mann was profoundly influenced by two philosophers, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who returned to the most ancient of all philosophical questions - "How to live?" - and whose writings offered novel perspectives for considering that question.
Sometimes, however, the new synthetic complex proves stable, and even serves as the beginning of a much larger cluster of attitudes that displace some we've previously considered to be fixed parts of ourselves.
For anyone who conceives literature in terms of plurality of perspectives, Finnegans Wake has to be the apogee. For, as we are told, every word in it has three score and ten "toptypsical" meanings - an exaggeration, of course, but an important reminder to readers who like their fiction definite.
Finally, this is one way to reconcile the delight in beauty with the bourgeois life. Aschenbach, on one reading, has spent virtually all of his adult life balancing his restrained homosexuality, which is bound together with his sensitivity to beauty and thus with his artistic vocation, against the demands of conventional society.
I read Aschenbach's constant desire to go beyond the works he has already produced to be the counterpart of Mann's deep wish to surpass his previous fiction; sometimes the diaries express this in terms of a dejected judgment that the summit has already been reached.
The amalgam of psychological attitudes we form is the synthetic complex. It may fall apart quite quickly as further reflection or further experience bears on it, and we may revert to our former judgments, feelings and tendencies.
The balance between literature and philosophy in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche is different from that struck in the novella, but, as Mann clearly pointed out in his writings about both thinkers, both modes are present.
I rather stumbled into philosophy. When I began my undergraduate career at Cambridge, I studied mathematics.
After the success of Buddenbrooks, he married and fathered six children. Yet the surviving diaries tell us of recurrent sexual problems - and of Katia Mann's extremely sympathetic response to them.
Presenting Aschenbach as a composer - based on Mahler - leads to some dreadful scenes , and it surely distorts the character Mann created. Yet, we know that Mann's novella was based on a holiday in Venice he took with his wife and brother, and that while he was there he followed the reports in the German newspapers, describing the dying Mahler's progress as he returned from New York to Vienna.
Schopenhauer's thought that Will is insatiable, that once satisfied in one form it must be expressed in new desires, is inherited both by Mann and by Aschenbach . So life is inevitably incomplete.
Both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are inexhaustible. They are celebrations of the ordinary, compelling reactions to philosophical elitism about "the good life". I hope to examine both of them further, doing more justice to Joycean comedy than I did in my "invitation" to the Wake, and trying to understand how the extraordinary stylistic innovations, particularly the proliferation of narrative forms, enable Joyce to "see life foully" from a vast number of sides.
The moment in which the narrator, reaching for his boots, becomes vividly and lastingly aware of the finality of his grandmother's death is another such moment. It would be interesting to explore Proust's great novel from the perspective of seeing how stable synthetic complexes are formed and modified.
The point of philosophy, as I see it, is to change thinking, and thereby to change the conversation.
I think the tone of mockery Heller finds is a part of Mann's irony, but only a part - a brilliant further touch consists in juxtaposing perspectives so that we're led to wonder whether the mockery itself is the last word.
Mann and Joyce are very different, and yet their fiction often appeals to the same people: Harry Levin taught a famous course on Joyce, Proust, and Mann, and Joseph Campbell singled out Joyce and Mann as special favorites. To see them as offering "possibilities for living", as I do, isn't to identify any distinctive commonality. After all, many great authors would fall under that rubric.
If the intuition-mongering were abandoned, would that be the end of philosophy? It would be the end of a certain style of philosophy - a style that has cut philosophy off, not only from the humanities but from every other branch of inquiry and culture.
Even though I want to expand the number of ways in which skilful ironic play happens, I suspect I'm probably guilty of the same shortcoming - and I hope that, one of these days, someone will claim that my book, while it goes in a salutary expansive direction, doesn't go far enough, that there are assumptions I make that show I've missed aspects of Mann's irony and ambiguity.
When we read a literary work our imagination is stimulated, we feel various emotions, and we arrive at new judgments. These attitudes are brought into relation with many others, including our standing tendencies to think and feel in particular ways, and we try to fit our psychological capacities and responses together.
Mann was less interested, I think, in constructing any kind of "portrait of an age" than he was in delineating an individual consciousness in which profound struggles about identity and direction arise - struggles that Mann himself had not only reflected on but felt keenly. Visconti takes up this central focus of the novella, but he couples it with a more social perspective.
Look at Mann's reading habits, his explicit comments on Nietzsche, and his copy of Birth of Tragedy, and it starts to seem doubtful that this work of Nietzsche's played much role in the gestation of the novella.
I believe that the arts make indispensable contributions to our understanding.
Science literacy consists in the ability and the desire to follow reports of new scientific advances, throughout your whole life.
Both Proust and Joyce record the ways in which human perspectives can be transformed. In Portrait, Stephen Dedalus is constantly undergoing epiphanies, but their effects are transitory: the new synthetic complex quickly falls apart. Proust's characters, by contrast, often achieve lasting changes of perspective.
I use biography, I use literary connections , I use philosophical sources (but not in the way many Mann critics do, where the philosophical theses and concepts seem to be counters to be pushed around rather than ideas to be probed), and I use juxtapositions with other literary works (including Mann's other fiction) and with works of music.
It may be hyperbolic to declare that Shakespeare teaches us more about being human than all the natural scientists combined.
I'm very concerned about the increasing distortion of research by the intrusion of the market. Universities are beginning to see science as a means of attracting funds.
Philosophy by showing - including philosophy in literature - does truly valuable work in leading us to new perspectives from which our arguments can then begin. It does so by introducing new synthetic complexes, which we then reflect on from various points of view. When the complexes survive and grow, that initial showing has been philosophically decisive.
I didn't know that Mahler would come to play so large a role, nor that music and literature and philosophy can interinanimate one another in the way I've come to think they do in this case.
I was occupied by a range of questions, often different from those fashionable in the professional philosophy of the past half century, that have sometimes troubled philosophers in the past. It's taken me several decades to work out my own philosophical agenda, and it is wide.
My ethical naturalism sees us as facing the predicament of being social animals without evolved adaptations that make social life easy. The fundamental problem that sparks the ethical project lies in our limited responsiveness to one another. The only way we have to address that problem is through a representative, informed, and engaged conversation.
Klaus Mann saw very clearly how different was his own form of homosexuality from the same-sex attractions of his father - and that is reiterated in TM's diary queries about "how two men can sleep together".
Any writer who could handle all these different voices would deserve high praise, but to do so without any sense of jarring or incoherence is an extraordinary accomplishment.
One goal of ethical inquiry might be to uncover strategies available for use when values conflict or when rules are incomplete.
I suggest in my own discussion of this episode, Mann invites us to set the attempt to philosophize about his predicament in the context of Aschenbach's life. The literary presentation thus adds to the naked philosophical skeleton.
There's a disciplined erotic component to it, so that the height of sexual contact is the embrace, the modest touch, a relatively chaste kiss. An important passage from the surviving 1942 diary relates this mode of sexual expression to his own life. Mann had returned to his diary for 1927 (one of those he burned) and to his parting from the young man, Klaus Heuser, whom the family had met on holiday and invited to Munich.
The classical allusions and the Platonic disquisitions on beauty are no longer a form of cover, but integral to Aschenbach's complex sexuality. Moreover, the wandering around Venice in pursuit of Tadzio isn't a prelude to some sexual contact for which Aschenbach is yearning.
In the end, we learn about the most basic philosophical questions - like "How to live?" - from a broad mixture of sources, including literature and philosophy, history and anthropology. These sources can guide our reflections on our own experiences, as we explore and reconsider. Mann contributed to such explorations in a distinctive way, and I hope my book brings that out.
I have enormous respect for Derek Parfit, although he seems to me bound within an unfortunate philosophical tradition - rather like the extraordinarily brilliant exponents of Ptolemaic astronomy in the Middle Ages.
Because the problems are objective features of the human situation - social animals without the capacities for making social life come easily - ethics is objectively constrained. It's not the case that anything goes.
When I try to outline the history of ethical life, it's sometimes possible to find evidence for a hypothesis about how important transitions actually went. Often, however, that isn't so. There are many facts about human life in the Paleolithic we're never likely to know.
As I read Mann in German for the first time, the full achievement - both literary and philosophical - of Death in Venice struck me forcefully, so that, when I was invited to give the Schoff Lectures at Columbia, the opportunity to reflect on the contrasts between novella and opera seemed irresistible.
Read Mann's notes, which contain precise accounts of cholera and its symptoms, and observe how careful he is throughout his fiction in getting medical details straight - then you might begin to wonder whether cholera is the only candidate for the cause of Aschenbach's death. What results from this, I think, is a deeper appreciation of Mann's brilliance in keeping so many possibilities in play. The ambiguity is even more artful than people have realized.
To my mind, Death in Venice represents an enormous advance in Mann's literary development, not simply for the commonly appreciated reason that he crafted a superbly supple and elegant style, apparently well suited to the kind of prose Aschenbach is supposed to write.
I don't deny that scientific investigation is capable of delivering important truths about nature, but that doesn't stop questions about whether, as it is practiced, science today lives up to its potential for benefiting humanity.
I suspect that any worthwhile exploration of these deep questions about living requires going beyond abstract discussions to the vivid presentation of possibilities. If readers are to be prompted to serious examination of their lives, anatomy isn't enough. We have to be stimulated to imagine, in some detail, what it would be like to live in particular ways.
In my current work on global warming, I argue that the only apparent solution to the deep problem of climate change would require very large transfers of wealth from rich nations to poor nations, so that the entire world can make the transition to renewable forms of energy as fast as possible.
Aschenbach is not only a projection of Mann in the obvious ways - same daily routines, author of the works Mann had planned - nor even in sharing his author's aspirations, doubts, and sexual identity. His watchword, "Durchhalten!" persevere, keep going could be Mann's own.
Those citizens are distracted by the toys technology has supplied, and fail to recognize the ways in which what they most deeply want is made vulnerable by the coming disruptions of human relations on an over-heated planet.
A different vision of ethics is that of a collection of resources people can use to act better. The resources might be firm rules that could always be relied on. Or they might be ideals that could often be followed without thinking but that sometimes conflicted with one another.
So this is my attempt to give a preliminary - probably far too crude - account of how philosophy by showing can really teach us. The attempts we make to work through problems by reasoning always presuppose starting points, and even the most self-critical philosophers adopt some of those starting points simply by picking them up from the social environments in which they grow up.
Mann is widely recognized as a master of irony and ambiguity, yet it's remarkable how quickly people foreclose options he carefully leaves open. Lots of readers - including eminent critics - jump to conclusions: that Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy is a central background text, that Aschenbach is an inferior writer, that he's never been attracted by pubescent male beauty before, that he dies of cholera.
Mann's sexuality and his attitudes towards it are extremely complex - and the complexities are inherited in the figure of Aschenbach. Mann had lived through a series of relationships with young men.
Sometime during the 1990s, when I was teaching philosophy at UCSD, my friend, colleague, and music teacher, Carol Plantamura, discussed the possibility of teaching a course together looking at ways in which various literary works had been treated as operas, and how different themes emerged in the opera and in its original. One of the pairings we planned to use was Mann's great novella and Britten's opera. Unfortunately, the course was never taught, but the idea remained with me.
I argue against literal interpretation of religious doctrines. Religions make progress when they emancipate themselves from literalism, and take their doctrinal statements to be metaphors or allegories.
In elaborating how "philosophy by showing" works, and in defending the idea that literature and music can contribute to philosophical "showing", I am also doing something more standardly philosophical. But I view most of the book as an interweaving of philosophy and literary criticism. If that entails a broadening of a standard idea of philosophy, it's a broadening I'd like to see happen.
In working towards ways of reading Mann, so that his own advances in suggesting new perspectives will become more vivid, I do some fairly standard philosophical analysis of ideas in Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.
Experiments work when, and only when, they call into action cognitive capacities that might reliably deliver the conclusions drawn.
Current education in science treats all students as if they were going to have scientific careers. They are required to solve problems and memorize lists. For many of them, this kills interest very quickly.
After two years of undergraduate study, it was clear that I was bored by the regime of problem-solving required by the Cambridge mathematical tripos. A very sensitive mathematics don recommended that I talk to the historian of astronomy, Michael Hoskin, and the conversation led me to enroll in the History and Philosophy of Science for my final undergraduate year.
The result can be quite new - perhaps a tendency to judge that something we've never conceived of is possible, or to feel sympathy for a trait or a type of person whom we've regarded with indifference or even hostility.
Many of the greatest works of philosophy seem to me to be valuable not because of their arguments, but because they offer us perspectives that open up new possibilities. They show us how we might start in different places, and not buy into the assumptions tacitly made on the first pages of the philosophical works that have influenced us.
I'm often quite gloomy about the prospects for the human future. But, although I have no competence to intervene directly in a political movement, I hope that what I write may, in combination with the suggestions of others, cause a shift in perspective that will inspire a world-wide movement to accept the only solution to climate change. And before it's too late.
It's not at all a bad idea for scientific questions to be chosen because a democratic deliberation would identify them as important for people's lives.
There are actually two separate issues here. The first is whether only the privileged elite can live a worthwhile life. The second is whether it's possible to fulfill the roles of both serious artist and upstanding citizen. It seems to me that philosophy can dissect both questions, by delineating clearly the anatomy of the good life and the structural conditions of the roles.
The hardest problem of all is to appreciate the facts that the poor nations are - quite reasonably - not going to forgo their development, and that they can only afford to develop by consuming fossil fuels.
Part of my methodological approach is made explicit when I discuss ways in which literature can have philosophical significance. Literature doesn't typically argue - and when it does, it's deadly dull. But literature can supply the frame within which we come to observe and reason, or it can change our frame in highly significant ways. That's one of the achievements I'd claim for Mann, and for Death in Venice.
So is fighting incompleteness the source of artistic neurosis? I doubt it. At most, this would apply to artists who deal with particular kinds of problems. I don't think we should think of Haydn or Mozart or Dickens or George Eliot in these terms.
I felt I should also contrast Visconti's treatment of the novella - usually damned by Mann fans . The Visconti film does many quite wonderful things, although there are good reasons for the condemnation.
Consider the different narrative styles within the story, and the glee with which the "moralistic narrator" celebrates Aschenbach's fall - maybe, then, this is a hostile verdict and the international fame is warranted after all.
I'm a pluralist about perspectives on literature. There seem to me to be all sorts of illuminating ways of responding to major literary works, some of them paying considerable attention to context, others applying various theoretical ideas, yet others focusing on details of language, or linking the work to the author's life, or connecting it with other works.
The variety within Mann's fiction is impressive and fascinating. But Joyce is even more various and many-sided. He begins his career with a wonderful sequence of bleak studies about the ways in which human lives can go awry - in my view, Dubliners is underrated.
conclude, what Thomas Mann really wanted was a limited physical relationship with beautiful young men: the opportunity to gaze at them, an occasional touch, a restrained kiss. That isn't a surrogate for what he'd like to have if he were somehow free from social constraints. It's what the young Platen wanted, it's what he wanted - and it's what his Aschenbach wants.
It is hard to hide our genes completely. However devoted someone may be to the privacy of his genotype, others with enough curiosity and knowledge can draw conclusions from the phenotype he presents and from the traits of his relatives.
My ideal of conversation that includes wide representation of perspectives, informed by the consensus view of current experts, pursued with an attempt to find a position with which all can live, brings the expert and the public dimensions together.
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