Quotes from Kohak's 'The Embers and the Stars'

" id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5302889589404206306" /></a>I recently discovered the work of Erazim Kohak, a Czech philosopher and Professor Emeritus at Boston University who has written extensively on environmental ethics.  I am 30 pages into Kohak’s <span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;">The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature</span>, and it is incredible so far.  A few excerpts below, with more to come.<div><br /><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">Reflection and speculation remain no more than cunningly devised fables if they are not grounded in what, paraphrasing Calvin Schrag, we could call the prephilosophical and prescientific matrix of self-understanding and world-comprehension.  Though philosophy must do much else as well, it must, initially, </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">see</span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;"> and, thereafter, ground its speculation ever anew in seeing.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">It is, surely, good that there are synthetic medicines to ease the surplus of pain, telephones to break through loneliness, and electric lights to keep the wayfarer from stumbling.  There is, though, something wrong when we use medicine to deaden our sensitivity, when we obliterate solitude with electronics and blind ourselves with the very lights we devised to help us see.  There is nothing wrong with our artifacts; there </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">is </span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">something wrong with us: we have lost sight of the sense, the purpose of our production and our products.  Artifacts, finally, are good only extrinsically, as tools.  They have no intrinsic sense of their own.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">My primary tool has been the metaphor, not the argument, and the product of my labors is not a doctrine but an invitation to look and see.  With Husserl, I have sought not to instruct but to point out, to recall what we have forgotten.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">Contrary to Descartes, long before the </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">cogito</span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;"> of reflection there is the goodness and the truth of the </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">sumus</span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">. [</span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">cogito </span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">= “I think,” as in </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">cogito ergo sum</span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">, “I think, therefore I am”; </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">sumus </span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">= togetherness, “we are”]</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">Humans have to dehumanize their world in their imagination in order to be able to exploit it ruthlessly in their actions.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">Our world of artifacts may be no more than the thinnest of layers covering the rhythm of living nature, but it is that layer that we confront in our daily experience.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">Though the theoretical construct of [nature as] a mechanically ordered matter in motion may bear little resemblance to the living nature of the field and the forest and so may never have appeared convincing before, it is a faithful reflection of a world of artifacts and as such compelling to a humanity whose experience with nature is restricted to contact with artifacts.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">The technical reason which produces the machine cannot teach us its human use.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">The logic of…production and consumption, however, grows ever more elusive.  Through the ages of humanity’s precarious survival on this earth, the meeting of basic survival needs provided a ready justification for productive activity.  Were we inclined so to direct our energies, it might still do so: there is more than enough hunger and sheer dismal misery still with us.  For the most part, though, we manage to ignore such need.  The logic of our production is not that of need but of affluence with lacks such automatic justification.  If affluence is to be justified, it cannot be by need but by some greater good, be it meeting the needs of others, caring for the natural world, or creating higher values of culture.  …Yet individually and collectively we sacrifice precious life and resources to producing and paying for [items such as ever-larger television sets] - and we are constantly assured that we must do so to “stimulate the economy.”  Production itself has become the justification of ever more absurd consumption: we consume to proudce, produce to consume; all other considerations must stand aside.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">The heavens may still declare the glory of God, but we look up not at the heavens but at neon reflected on smog; we walk not on the good earth but on asphalt.  Our estrangement from nature is no longer conceptual only: it has acquired an experiential grounding.  Figuratively, we are all in the position of the child who has never seen, never mind milked, a cow, and whose lived experience constantly provides an experiential confirmation for the assumption that milk comes from a supermarket cooler.</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">…</span></div><div><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">If the products of human </span><span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic;"><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;">techne</span></span><span class="Apple-style-span"  style="font-size:small;"> become philosophically and experientially problematic, it is, I would submit, because we come to think of them as autonomous of the purpose which led to their production and gives them meaning.  We become, in effect, victims of a self-forgetting, losing sight of the moral sense which is the justification of technology.  Quite concretely, the purpose of electric light is to help humans see.  When it comes to blind them to the world around them, it becomes counterproductive.  The task thus is not to abolish technology but to see through it to the human meaning which justifies it and directs its use.</span><br /><br /></div><div>Erazim Kohak  </div><div>–<span class="Apple-style-span" style="font-style: italic; "><a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=GvI0xlwoMesC&dq=the+embers+and+the+stars&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0">The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature</a></span><br /><br /></div><div class="blogger-post-footer">—
Ryan McCarl
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