This is a redrawing of a diagram I played with in 2009. It is meant to show the relationship of making and understanding and how it weaves between thinking top-down in wholes, and then bottom-up in terms of parts. It was originally inspired by learning (from Richard J. Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivism and Relativism) that the hermeneutical circle was based on a model from rhetoric theory.
Category Archives: Symbols and diagrams
Diagram du jour
This is pretty much a paraphrasing of what I’m always saying, one way or another, but I think it’s a relatively clear one. What I’m trying to do is to classify the different modes of understanding available to us to help us relate and unify our experience. In this diagram the darker, outer circles of why, how and what are the space in which we can feel the relevance of a problem and pursue understanding; the brighter inner circles of the venn diagram are the successful resolution of a problem through the exercise of various modes of understanding. At the center is totality as (as I believe) Levinas uses it, though without the moral overtones.
My view is that most us overemphasize episteme (the type of knowledge by which we comprehend objects), if we recognize the other forms of understanding at all. Even when we do, we tend to reduce them to the terms of episteme. In my view, sophia and phronesis are felt and responded, to aptly or not, according to the degree of one’s understanding. One’s ability to articulate the understanding has much less to do than with one’s ability to relate and respond (verbally or not) by the terms of and to the ends set by the understanding. Sophia and phronesis are essentially tacit forms of knowledge, which can find articulations, but precedes and exceeds the articulation of language.
These diagrams are the attempts of my own episteme to relate to the other faculties within my soul. And when I find myself caring about the form and content of these diagrams and then later catch myself working naturally according to the principles I’m attempting to show, I experience wholeness of purpose and coherence in the world. And if others experience my diagrams this way — or show me how I can improve them, or convince me that I ought to destroy them — I feel the potential of the world to be a home.
I’m always looking for structures, but not because I think the structure is already there to be discovered. It’s because I think sanity requires these kinds of structures. I am perfectly willing to project a structure onto reality as if it is already in it, and see it there afterward. These structures are not tools I employ to help me see; they’re understanding itself, by which I see.
I’m enough of a skeptic that I do not care if a model is a discovery or an invention. What matters is that it is experienced as a discovery, and that the structure clings to my vision as if it is part of what I see, not a feature of my sight.
Think about these statements:
“Bear with me.”
“Please hear me out.”
“It will all make sense in the end.”
Why are these requests necessary? When are they made?
To what feeling in the listener is the speaker responding?
What kind of appeal is being made? Do we owe it to another to give him a full hearing?
When is the appeal denied? Is it a matter of credibility?
What is the experience of denial?
To read the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament is to experience the most pluralistic religious vision ever recorded, from the most accutely and radically pluralistic people who ever lived. In what other scripture is the same story is recounted three different times from the point of view of three different people? It would have been easier and more obvious to collapse them into one univocal account, but instead the three experiences, three meaningful visions were presented together in a three-in-one synopsis – syn– (together) –opsis (seeing). [* See note 1 below]
I like to think of pluralism as a kind of parallax vision, that allows us to see hyper-dimensionally. With one eye you see a flat picture. With two eyes working in concert we see depth. Our so-called “inner eye” draws out the dimension of meaning. With a pluralistic synopsis we see meaning together – we share meaning and have community. We gain understanding, which the Greeks called synesis.
By the time Jesus began teaching his distinctively Jewish universal vision of life, the Jewish tradition had survived and overcome numerous cultural crises. They had dominated and been subjugated, had won their home and lost it. They knew belonging and alienation, and they knew both sides of power.
Most importantly they knew that knowledge of experience means to know an experience from the inside. Experiencing is inseparable from that which is experienced, and this means, to use a common visual analogy, that experience is inseparable from its vision, as how the world looks from that experience. (One of my favorite Jewish thinkers, Edmund Husserl called this “intentionality”: seeing and seen are inseparable, as are hearing and sound, feeling and sensation, etc. [* See note 2 below].)
The Jews knew better than anyone that power is something that can be seen, but even more, it is a way of seeing – of life and the world as a whole. Power has its own kind of vision. When an emperor sees himself, or his court, or a rival power, or he looks upon a conquered enemy or slave, that emperor sees something radically different than the slave regarding the same situation. Power is something different, powerlessness is different. A palace, a body, a tree, a poem… everything is the same in a sense, but things are deeply different. The same goes for a stranger, expat, wanderer, outcast or outcaste.
Out of necessity, the Jews had to develop a way of preserving themselves as a tradition within these conditions. That meant living on a line between provoking attacks from the outside and simply dissolving from cultural self-indifference or self-disgust. They had to internalize their strength. They had to find dignity in their vulnerability to escape the indignity of weakness.
There was no way such a response to such a universal problem was going to stay contained within a small ethnic tradition forever. Whether it was Jesus or Paul, somehow the radical insights of Judaism went universal.
A series of words derived from the Latin word credere, “believe, trust”:
A series of words derived from the Old English word agan, “believe, trust.” :
- Ought (originally past tense of “owe”)
A series of words derived from Latin auditor, from audire, “to hear”:
An example of divergent accounts from two of the Synoptic Gospels (which some scholars believe were adapted from yet another lost Gospel, “Q”, possibly a compendium of sayings similar to the (in)famous Gospel of Thomas).
These two passages are taken from Jesus’s famous Lord’s Prayer, his instructions on how to pray.
Matthew 6:12: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Luke 11:4: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”
In Matthew 6:12, the Greek word used was opheilema. [* See note 3 below.]
In Luke 11:4, the Greek word was hamartia, which means literally “missing the mark”.
Out of time. Darn. I’ll finish this post if there’s any interest. [* See note 4 below.]
* NOTE 1: To call the New Testament inconsistent as some atheists do is to miss the point. To argue over which meaning is the right meaning as the fundamentalists do is to betray the point. To behave as though a plurality of possible meaning implies that all meanings are equivalent and that it is meaningless to discuss them… to go skeptical on that basis, and to ask cynically, rhetorically “what is truth?”… to wash one’s hands of the responsibility to engage dialogically in pursuit of understanding… that’s complicity in the conflict.
* NOTE 2: Intentionality in Husserl’s sense is a core religious insight, expressed in a variety of forms, from the Jewish Star of David, to the Chinese yin-within-yang and yang-within-yin, to the Greek Janusian herms (with Hermes’s head fused to the head of a goddess, often Aphrodite), to the Hermetic hermaphroditic Androgyne, male on the right, female on the left, sun on the right, moon on the left. Listen for the inside-outside symbolic structure and you’ll find it everywhere. This capacity to hear and understand the form-language of symbol is what I believe is meant by “having ears that hear.”
* NOTE 3: Opheilema seemed like it might have a connection with the name “Ophelia” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if there was an etymological connection. According to Wikipedia, “the name ‘Ophelia’ itself was either uncommon or nonexistent; the only known prior text to use the name (as “Ofalia”) is Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia.” It seems fairly obvious the name is a combination of opheilema and philia, love – “love debt” – love unrequited.)
* NOTE 4: Etymology of “interest”: ORIGIN late Middle English (originally as interess): from Anglo-Norman French interesse, from Latin interesse ‘differ, be important,’ from inter– ‘between’ + esse ‘be.’ The -t was added partly by association with Old French interest ‘damage, loss,’ apparently from Latin interest ‘it is important.’ Also influenced by medieval Latin interesse ‘compensation for a debtor’s defaulting.’
Another version of the same diagram
I’ve been struggling with the same inchoate problem since early 2006. It appears to center on the meaning of the I Ching trigrams, but in fact the I Ching has only provided a form for approaching the problem. The interest I’ve have in the I Ching has been a by-product of struggling with this problem.
One thing I’ve noticed is that my interest in trigrams seems to move in step with my interest in pragmatist philosophy. I think what the trigrams mean is best accounted for in pragmatist terms. The trigrams are better understood in terms of how they are used than by what they represent. The use of the triads is unification and stabilization of the experiential flux. The trigrams are a typology of interpretive schemas used to unify experience.
This quote by C. S. Peirce always belongs with this diagram:
“Philosophy ought to imitate the successful sciences in its methods, so far as to proceed only from tangible premisses which can be subjected to careful scrutiny, and to trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected.”