Friday, June 19, 2015

‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’

‘It has nothing to do with Oxford University’ said the porter at the University Offices
(A postscript to my correspondence with the Pension Service)

Dear Glyn Caron,
In my email of 10 June 2015 I asked the Pension Service: ‘On what basis have the Pension Service found me in debt of £11,956.70 ? My request is urgent. On the 1st of September I shall be separating from my wife. From then on I shall live on my State Pension, at Oxford. My State Pension, even if it were paid to me in full, is not sufficient for my renting any accommodation at Oxford; I shall be therefore spending my nights in front of Balliol College, my days at Bodleian Library. But it would make a great difference, if I feed myself on £39.95 instead of £26.95.’

On 12 June 2015 you replied: ‘On the subject of you have to subsist on £26.95 that would not be the case … if you are to separate from your wife then you will be able to apply for Pension Credit as a single person … you will be entitled to an amount of £111.25 + your State Pension. Furthermore being entitled to Pension Credit will also make you entitled to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit … I would therefore advise that as soon as you are certain of your future plans you telephone 0800 99 1234 and make a new claim for Pension Credit.’

These are undoubtedly well meant suggestions and I should like to use this opportunity to thank the Pension Service and all the other DHSS departments that since 1987 made it possible for me to continue my work in philosophy. But I will not make a new claim for Pension Credit; you either revise the decision concerning my debt, or from the day I separate from my wife I shall subsist on 26.95 a week.

Why do I insist on the revision of my debt? On 8 December 2009 The Pension Service wrote to me: ‘Details of the money we will take off your Pension Credit each week. Start date 11 January 2010. End date 24 April 2033. Total amount stopped £ 9.75.’ I have reasons to suspect an Oxford University hand in the decision to encumber me with debt. This is why I have been insisting on the revision of this decision ever since I have learnt about it, in September 2009. My suspicions go back to the year 1988. In 1987 I applied for unemployment benefit. In January 1988 the benefit was disconnected. I appealed against the decision and I was informed that in March a Social Security Appeal Tribunal would be held at which the matter would be decided; I would be informed of the exact date in due course. And so I wrote to all Members of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy, inviting them to the tribunal and asking them to testify on my behalf that I was continuing to do my research in philosophy, the subject for which I have been qualified, and that I was applying for jobs in my speciality. Michael Dummett, Wykeham Professor of Logic and a fellow of New College replied: ‘I am very sorry indeed to hear that you are having trouble about supplementary benefit. If you would tell me on what date the tribunal will be held, I will certainly attend it if I am free to do so at the time. I am willing to act as a witness.’

The tribunal took place on 23/8/1988. On 17th August 1988 Professor Dummett wrote to me: ‘I promised to be present at your tribunal hearing if I could; unfortunately, I cannot, since I shall actually be giving a talk on that morning at the World Congress. I hope very much that your plea is accepted.’

Oxford dons are very good at this kind of machinations. In August 1981 I gave a paper on ‘Socrates in the Clouds’, jointly with Dr Wilkes, at the Triennial meeting of Greek and Roman Societies. My views on Aristophanes’ Clouds differed from those of Professor Dover. Dr Wilkes sent him the paper. On 15 August 1981 he replied: ‘I am most grateful for the opportunity to read Dr Tomin’s paper on the Clouds. It was a great pity that the organisers of the Triennial ensured my absence from the discussion by making me chair a different discussion at the same hour!’ (Dover’s exclamation mark.)

Those who lost the unempIoyment benefit could ask the Unemployment Benefit Office for a loan. I did so in April 1988. The officer at the desk asked: ‘How would you repay the loan?’ I answered: ‘In August, there will be a World Congress of Philosophy in Brighton. I shall cycle there and start a hunger-strike in front of the Congress Building. I expect journalists to come and ask what it is about; I shall give an interview to them under the condition that they repay my debt to you.’ The officer said: ‘Mr Tomin, wait a moment.’ He went away and returned in about a quarter of an hour: ‘Mr Tomin, your benefits will be renewed.’ The first week after my visit I received the benefit. The benefit came always the same day of the week (Tuesday?). The following fortnight it did not arrive. I waited for two days and then I went to the Benefit Office. I had to wait for more than an hour, a precious hour I planned to spend at the Bodleian Library. At last an officer received me: ‘We sent you the cheque.’ I had to fill in a Form: ‘Report of girocheque not received/lost/stolen/destroyed etc.’ The same thing happened for several weeks that followed; my waiting was more and more protracted. I was openly treated as a man who had received the cheques, is lying and defrauding the country. And so I went to the University Offices and asked for an interview with the Vice-Chancellor; the Vice-Chancellor was not available, but I was given a hearing by the Marshal. I told him I had every reason to believe the involvement of Oxford University in the matter. He said it was nonsense: ‘But I can tell you one thing, Mr Tomin. There is no place for you here. All doors are closed for you at Oxford University.’ I told him that I could not accept that: ‘The supreme duty of Oxford University, and any other university, is to get the best men and women they can get to teach their students. There is only one acceptable reason for not giving me a teaching post; that I am not good enough in Ancient Philosophy, my speciality. If I am not good enough today, I shall do my very best to advance my knowledge, so that I become good enough tomorrow.’ – After my visit at the University Offices my giro-cheques arrived by post every fortnight without any further problems.

The tribunal that was to decide whether I was to receive unemployment benefits coincided with the World Congress of Philosophy. My attendance at the Congress caused quite a stir: Under the photo subtitled ‘Dr Tomin relaxes by the sea at Brighton during a break from the World Philosophy Congress’ The Daily Telegraph of August 23. 1988 brought an article entitled ‘Dissident is philosophical on £67 benefit’. Barry o Brien wrote: ‘Dr Julius Tomin, the dissident Czech philosopher who has lived in exile in Britain since 1980, has had to cycle from Oxford to the World Congress on Philosophy at Brighton because he could not afford the train fare. He spent a night on the way sleeping rough south of Horsham and has been given a week’s free lodging by a policeman’s wife who took pity on him because he had nowhere to stay … ‘I had to leave the Congress for a day to go to Oxford for the tribunal hearing. I could go by train; quite a number of Congress Members donated to me money so that I could pay the Congress fee – over £300 if I remember – and the return train to Oxford.

At the tribunal were several journalists. The Economist wrote under the title ‘Available to think’: ‘Picture the scene. On one side of a large municipal-style table in a prefab government office sit three middle-aged middle-class home counties worthies. On the other is an unshaven, overwrought, gesticulating and heavily accented man trying to argue, like Aristotle, that philosophy is the key to the best life; and, like Socrates, that a life without philosophy is not worth living … ‘ The Tribunal did not reach any decision; I was to receive a decision in a fortnight. On 6th September I was notified that I had lost my appeal. But by then I was bombarded by letters sent mostly by The Daily Telegraph readers, sending me money: £5, £10, £20, £ 50. This shower of charity, roused by Barry O’Brien articles in The Daily Telegraph ended in two or three weeks – with a postal strike, which took place only in Oxfordshire and lasted for some three weeks. By then I was offered a three year lecture contract at the Beehive Pub in Swindon.

My troubles with the Unemployment Benefit Office started again in 1992. Following a refusal of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy to allow me to have reading classes on Plato at the University, on October 22 I visited the Administrator of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy and told him that if I am not allowed to lecture at the Philosophy Centre, I shall protest with a ten day hunger-strike. On Saturday October 30 I was expecting a giro-cheque with my Income Support and Housing Benefit, but it did not arrive. My cheques went missing in the past; each time it happened I signed the appropriate Form and obtained a new cheque. Not this time. I was told that the cheque could not be immediately given to me, for there was something wrong with my address (I lived at 330 Banbury Rd).

After my visit at the Unemployment Office I visited the University Offices and asked the porter for an appointment with the University Marshal. The Marshal came immediately. I told him I suspected a co-operation between MI5, MI6 and Oxford dons was behind the non-delivery of my cheque and the Unemployment Benefit refusal to give me the cheque; I asked him to investigate the matter: ‘For as long as Oxford dons deny my academic credentials – “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job” said Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, quoted by Nick Cohen in ‘The Pub Philosopher’ published in The Independent Magazine 18 November 1989 – while at the same time they refuse to face me in a public discussion, they must be interested in getting me out of Oxford. I have received letters from Members of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy and from several Heads of Colleges asking me to leave. Since they cannot prove me academically inadequate in an open academic confrontation, no wonder they apply other means to achieve their aim.’

I informed the Marshal about another incident concerning ‘something wrong with my address’: ‘Earlier in the year I was surprised to have received an invitation to give a lecture at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Wales at Lampeter. The lecture was for free, but I was to be paid my travel expenses. After the lecture the Head of the Department encouraged me to have a good meal on the train on my way back as part of my travel expenses. I did so and paid the bill with my Barclaycard, hoping to receive the cheque before the bill from the Barclaycard would arrive. I was wrong in my expectations. It was in the winter and my electricity bills were high, my situation became desperate. In the end I wrote to the Secretary of the Philosophy Department at Lampeter. The Secretary replied: “I have just received your letter, and I phoned the Accounts Department straight away about the money; they say they sent out your cheque on 22 January, but the silly fools sent it to 205 Iffley Road. I’ve told them to stop that one and send you another at the Banbury Road, which they will do next week. Why they didn’t use the address on the form I don’t know.” I waited for the cheque a week, ten days, no cheque. In the end I wrote to the Secretary that the Accounts Department presumably unearthed another of my previous addresses, so if I do not get the cheque, I shall cycle to Lampeter to get it. My address became immediately all-right and I received the cheque promptly.’

My appeal to the Marshall concerning ‘something wrong with my address’ was not very successful, as the following incident demonstrates. The Editor of Symbolae Osloenses, a Norwegian classical journal, offered to publish in the 1992 issue my article on ‘A Preliminary to the Study of Plato’. 1993 arrived and I still hadn’t received even the proofs of my article. I wrote to the Editor concerning it. In a letter of March 1993 he replied: ‘Your article has already been printed. I enclose a copy for you to see. You will soon receive the offprints. It is a mystery for me that you have neither received them nor the proofs.’

Bente Lassen wrote to me: ‘I hear from Professor Knut Kleve that you have received neither proofs nor off-prints of your article ‘A Preliminary to the Study of Plato’, which was published in Symbolae Osloenses vol. LXVII 1992. I am very sorry about this and wonder whether a slight change of address might explain the misunderstanding. However it may be, Universitetsforlaget is now informed and will send you your off-prints.’

I never received the off-prints. I sent a copy of the article to a classical philosopher in Prague in 1991: ‘Around this little article the Platonic Studies will make a U-turn, for it in itself is sufficient to substantiate the early dating of Plato’s Phaedrus, which I have championed. The modern Platonic scholarship considers it to be late. That’s the crux of the scholarly differences between me and my Oxford colleagues.’ Without the off-prints which I could send to Platonic scholars my article in Symbolae Osloenses was as good as dead.

To substantiate my suspicion that MI5, MI6 and Oxford dons cooperated, I gave the Marshal a copy of Roger Scruton’s ‘A Catacomb Culture’ published in the Times Literary Supplement, February 16-22, 1990: ‘The publicity-conscious Tomin then emigrated and … Kathleen Wilkes, Alan Montefiore, Bill Newton-Smith and myself … We decided that, although our purpose was charitable … it should not be openly pursued, and that we could henceforth best help our Czechoslovak colleagues working secretly.’

I told the Marshal that in my experience, whenever people in Czechoslovakia did anything ‘secretly’, the Secret Police was well informed about it, and whenever it suited them, they made people know that they were well informed, so as to sow among them mutual suspicion. I could not expose my students to that; that’s why I insisted on the openness of my philosophy seminar. Shortly after Roger Scruton published his article, the man who secured Oxford dons’ ‘secret contacts’ with the Czechoslovak ‘underground’, Jan Kavan, the Head of the London Palach Press, was exposed as an agent of the Czechoslovak Secret Police. At around that time I heard on Radio 4 an interesting interview with Professor Ericson, the British expert on East European military and police forces. He revealed that around 1980 the KGB decided to dump Communism. Presumably, Roger Scruton’s ‘secret seminars’ became a significant factor in accomplishing this aim. To make this plain, I underlined for the Marshal some further lines from Roger Scruton’s article:

‘We were able to set up a network of secret classes – not only in Bohemia, but also in Moravia and Slovakia … a small sum of money had been given for the relief of our Czechoslovak colleagues [the Jan Hus Foundation trust was founded] … Many of our visitors were extremely well known in their own countries … We also encouraged our French, German, American and Canadian colleagues to establish sister trusts, thereby acquiring an international dimension which was to prove invaluable in the hard years to come … We were obliged by our trust to support educational and cultural activities in Czechoslovakia … We therefore began to establish other, purely nominal organizations through which to pay official stipends, so that the names of our beneficiaries could not be linked either to us or to each other … In the mid-1980s, thanks to a generous grant from George Soros (who will surely be commemorated in future years, not only as a great Hungarian patriot, but also as one of the saviours of Central Europe), we had expanded into Moravia … it was a time of miracles … Čarnogurský was made Deputy Prime Minister of his country … another of our beneficiaries was President [Václav Havel], and within weeks we were to see our friends occupying the highest offices in the land … Among those who had worked with us we could count the new rectors of the Charles University, of the Masaryk University in Brno, and of the Palacký University in Olomouc.’

After my meeting with the University Marshal I visited the Oxford BBC. A young research assistant was willing to listen to me. He appeared intelligent and sympathetic. Next day, on Tuesday November2, 1992, in my letter to him I wrote: ‘For years I was allowed to lecture at Oxford. I lectured for free, for it was I who asked for a permission to do so. I asked Oxford philosophers and classicists again and again to attend my lectures and to subject my views on Ancient Philosophy to criticism; both my students and I would have benefited from it. But all my appeals were in vain. Recently the rules were changed. When I wanted to give further lectures, I was asked to find two referees who would support my proposal. I wrote to Dr Kenny, the Master of Balliol, and to Professor Barnes. Dr Kenny did not reply to me, which I found strange, considering that it was he who had invited me to Oxford in the first place. On the other hand, as soon as I arrived at Oxford in 1980, he told me that there would be no place for me at Oxford or at any other British University. His tacit refusal may thus be considered consistent with his original stand. A remarkable consistency, for during the past twelve years I concentrated all my efforts to make myself worthy of presenting the results of my studies to Oxford students. Professor Barns from Balliol College wrote to me: ‘I am unwilling to recommend your proposed lectures to the Sub-Faculty – indeed, if the proposal is brought before the Sub-Faculty, I shall oppose it.’ (I never received a response to my letter.)

During my evening walk on that day I realized the absurdity of the Benefit Office’s position. If they found something wrong with my address, the more reason to give the cheque directly to me. The only legitimate reason for their refusing to do so would be a suspicion that I had received the cheque and intended to defraud the Office. Who else but a representative of Oxford University would have the authority to persuade the DHHS officers that they should doubt my integrity? I felt I had to talk about this to the University Marshal. I would have preferred to talk about it to the Vice-Chacellor, but all my efforts to have an appointment with him were to no avail. I revisited the University Offices on Wednesday November 3, 1992. This time the porter would not allow me to see the Marshal or anyone else. He maintained that my cause had nothing to do with Oxford University. I tried to persuade him otherwise, but he would not listen to me: ‘It is way above my head’. Opposite the porter’s seat was the Registration Office. I approached the lady behind the counter and asked her for advice who should I talk to. She was prepared to listen. I showed her Roger Scruton’s article in the TLS. When I was explaining it and commenting on it, the porter intervened: ‘Not a word more. Leave the building, or I call the police.’ – ‘Please, call the police,’ I replied, and wanted to continue explaining the matter to the lady behind the counter. But her telephone rang and she was summoned away. ‘I shall be back as soon as possible,’ she said before leaving. I waited and waited, but neither did she return, nor did the police come. In the end I asked a gentleman who came to serve the customers if he knew when the lady I had spoken to would return. ‘She won’t return.’ – ‘Would you help me,’ I asked. – ‘No, I can’t,’ he said, ‘it is way above my head.’

I went in search of someone in the University Offices who would listen to me and give the matter due consideration. I was half the way up the staircase when my jacket was snatched from behind, I was pulled back, raised up from the ground by a giant of a man, carried down the stairs, across the entrance hall and out of the building: ‘If you ever come again, it will be worse,’ said the man after releasing me.

On Thursday November 4 I decided to return to the University Offices and ask the name of the man  who carried me out of the building. But in view of the threat ‘If you ever come again, it will be worse’ I wanted to inform someone from the media about my intentions. The Oxford BBC was closed, and so I cycled to Osney Island to The Oxford Times offices. I told the lady at the Reception that I had a story concerning Oxford University. She asked my name, passed it on by telephone, and then told me to wait for ten minutes. Ten minutes turned into more than half an hour; finally came a young lady with a pen and a note-book. She asked what I had to tell her. I barely began to talk when she interrupted me: ‘You make me confused. I do not understand what you say.’ Whatever I wanted to say, I was confronted with her repeated and imperturbable: ‘You make me confused. I do not understand what you say.’

In the end I told her that I was similarly manhandled in 1986. At the time, I wrote about it in a letter that I sent to several philosophers. Would she read the paragraph in my letter in which I described the incident? It concerned a Czech classical scholar Karel Hubka who committed a suicide in his flat in London. The Daily Telegraph reported the suicide: ‘Jobless defector killed himself.’ He may have been ‘an expert on 18th-century Latin languages, as the article says , but he was first and foremost the best Classical scholar of his generation in my country (he was 47 when he died). I once took part in his seminar on Plato’s Gorgias. The article twisted the case so as to eliminate any connection between Karel Hubka and Oxford University. In my letter I wrote:

‘I had to talk the case over with somebody. At Exeter College I found Christopher Kirwan. “I know about it,” he said when I handed over to him the article. – “The article is heavily doctored,” I expostulated. “It does not even mention that Hubka came to Great Britain invited on the initiative of Jan Hus Foundation.” – “He was not invited,” insisted Christopher Kirwan. – “But that cannot be true, for how could he have got here, if not invited?” – “Well then, he had been invited, but only to give a few lectures at the British Academy,” conceded Christopher, “Jan Hus Foundation had nothing to do with it.” – “I doubt it.” – “Get out! You call me a liar. I am on the board of Jan Hus Foundation trustees.” – “I have not called you a liar, I only want to get the facts.” – “Out! I said get out!” – “Wait, how come you knew about Hubka’s death before reading about it in the newspaper?” – “I knew him.” – “How come?” – “I met him in Prague.” – “In what circumstances?” – “I visited his seminar.” – “Under whose auspices did you visit his seminar?” – “Get out! I said get out!” – “Wait, was it not under the auspices of Jan Hus Foundation?” – “It’s none of your business! Shoot!” With these words Christopher Kirwan grabbed me and carried me out of his room. The last time I had been manhandled prior to this was some six years ago, by the Czech police in Prague.’

The lady from The Oxford Times glanced at the text, read a line or two, and said: ‘It makes me confused. I do not understand.’

Let me quote the closing lines from the letter: ‘Can the bedevilling circle of secrecies be broken to reveal the truth about Karel Hubka? Would he be dead today if his defection and his services to British academics while in Prague on their secret missions would have been known to British public? Secrets jealously guarded from British Public while shared with the Czechoslovak Secret Police are deadly secrets; they have been poisoning British academic scene for some six years; and what about British journalism, free, independent, investigative journalism?’

I have changed my mind concerning the date of my departure to Oxford. I shall go to Oxford on 15th of September. During the first week of September I shall go to the Czech Republic to organize Three days in Prague devoted to philosophy, held in Stromovka, the park in which I read Plato’s Phaedrus with Dr Kathy Wilkes from Oxford University thirty five years ago. On the first of these days I intend to present to my audience a revised version of ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ (available on my website), on the second day I intend to present a paper on ‘The Kantian subjectivity of space and time’, and on the third day I intend to present a paper on ‘Plato’s Parmenides in the light of Aristotle’s criticism of the theory of Forms’.


Julius Tomin

Monday, June 15, 2015

It is all wrong – a letter to the Pension Service

Dear Glyn Caron,

In my letter of 10 June 2015 I asked: ‘On what basis have the Pension Service found me in debt of £11,956.70 ?’ On 12 June you replied: ‘The deductions are for an overpayment that dates back to 10 October 2008. The overpayment was because of undeclared earnings by your partner.’ Would you justify your statement by giving me facts? I must repeat my question: ‘On what basis have the Pension Service found me in debt of £11,956.70?’

Before I get the facts, let me ask: If the overpayment goes back to 10 October 2008, why was I charged with the debt of £11,956.70 almost a year later? The circumstances were dramatic. Let me quote from my letter to Ursula Grum of 7/10/2009:
‘In a letter of 08/09/2009 you informed me that my Pension Credit was overpaid £158.34 for the period 06/07/2009-26/07/2009. I received the letter on Monday September 14. In the letter you stated: “The overpayment occurred because on 09/07/2009 your circumstances changed and the office that paid your benefit was not told at the correct time about a change to the level of earnings in your household.” This allegation is false. On 23 July 2009 I sent The Pension Service a letter, in which I informed you of my wife’s earnings for three days of supply teaching for the period 2 to 14 July, and I enclosed the three pay slips. I did so as soon as my wife received the pay. I did not contact you on the day I received your letter of 8/9, for I expected a visit from the Pension Service Customer Liaison Officer, announced for the next day, with whom I wanted to discuss the issue.
On September 15 I was visited by the Pension Service Customer Liaison Officer to whom I showed the relevant documents concerning the supposed overpayment. At that point she gave me your letter of 11 August 2009 in which you inform me that in the period from 01/08/2005 to 12/10/2008 I was overpaid £11,688.36, and from 13/10/2008 to 19/10/2008 I was overpaid £75.28, that is in total £11,763.64. I phoned your department in the officer’s presence, appealing against your decision.’

Now back to your letter of 12 June 2015; you wrote: ‘The deductions are for an overpayment that dates back to 10 October 2008.’ I find the date intriguing.

Early in Autumn 2008 I informed Classicists and classical philosophers that I put on my website the first volume of The Lost Plato, which focuses on nine dialogues of Plato which I consider as written prior to Socrates' death. I indicated that I was preparing its sequel, a systematic study of the dialogues written after the death of Socrates. I asked: ‘In your view, should this work be undertaken? If so, what can be done that it is undertaken in conditions worthy of the work it requires? If you think that such work should not be undertaken, could you tell me why?’ Nicholas Denyer replied ‘NO’, which he justified as follows: ‘You do not name the nine dialogues you view as written before Socrates' death. But whichever nine dialogues you were to name, there is no reason to suppose that your view about their dating is correct. Amplifying a view which there is no reason to suppose correct is not a good use of your time and talents.’ Nicholas Denyer said his NO without looking at least at the few pages of the ‘Introduction’.

In October 2008 I wrote to my colleagues: ‘I should like to inform you that as of yesterday my questions acquired an unexpectedly grave existential dimension. From the Stroud District Council I received the following letter:
“We have been advised that your Pension Credits have stopped, which may affect your entitlement to Housing or Council Tax Benefits. We have therefore suspended payment of these benefits in accordance with Regulation 11 of the Decision and Appeals Regulations 2001. There is no right of appeal against this decision."
I phoned the Council, informed the lady I spoke to that my wife, who was self-employed on a part time basis until September is now studying at Cheltenham, taking a year long post-graduate course to become a teacher. The lady told me that on the information they received from the Pension Service my Pension Credits were disconnected as of July 2008. This surprised me, for when I asked my wife a few days ago whether I was receiving the pension credit as normal, she looked at my account and said "yes". I was advised to contact the Pension Service, which I did. The lady I spoke to at that office told me that my last Pension Credit payment would be sent to me on October 19: "Your Pension Credit is stopped because we have been informed that you and your wife are receiving Working Tax Credit." I told the lady that they were badly misinformed, for my wife ceased to work, as I duly informed their office at the beginning of September. I pointed to a letter I received from her office on 10 September, which said:
"Thank you for informing us of the cessation of your partner's self-employment."
The Pension Credit I have been receiving until October 19 was £62.79 a week. Since we neither smoke nor drink, and live all in all frugally, we have been able to survive.
This morning I received a letter from the Pension Services, dated 13 October 2008, which says that "from 21 July 2008 you will get £5.10 a week. From July 2008 you are not entitled to Pension Credit."
The section "How Pension Credit has been worked out" says
"the minimum amount of money the Government says you must have each week taking account of specific circumstances is £189.35. State pension for Julius Tomin £31.38. Working Tax Credit for Doina Cornell £70.18. Earnings of Doina Cornell [my wife has kept her maiden name] £82.69. Total income £184.25. Your appropriate amount of £189.35, less your total income of £184.25. So your total guarantee credit is £5.10."

I see a certain similarity between Denyer's NO and the Pension Service calculations. Denyer does not need to look at a single page of The Lost Plato in order to proclaim confidently that there is no reason to suppose that my views are correct and that therefore my question whether my future work deserves to be undertaken in conditions worthy of such work deserves a NO. I may phone and write to the Pension Service as often as I wish, informing the office workers that my wife is now a student, that she has no earnings, that we consequently do not receive any Working Tax Credit - the Pension Credit officers KNOW better.’

You can find the full text of my email on my website, where it figures as email No VI in the ‘Preface’ entitled ‘Eleven emails on The Lost Plato addressed to classicists and classical philosophers’.
With best wishes,
Julius Tomin

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Kantian subjectivity of space and time

In my previous post, ‘Kant and self-knowledge’, I pointed out that Kant’s view of human mind is strikingly similar to the view of human spiritual nature that neurophysiology opens for us.

In the light of neurophysiology the world we perceive is formed in us on the basis of the information processed by our brain, which is differently structured in the space of our brain than the world, which we see around us, is structured in space. There are many forms of movement and change within the nerve system: electric action potentials are propagated along the nerve fibres; the sodium pumps swap sodium ions on the inside of neurons with potassium ions on the outside of them … But none of these movements and changes model movements and changes we can observe in the world around us. The information concerning the outside world, processed by the brain, must be transformed into the world of our consciousness, which is in its totality in us.

In the Critique of pure reason Kant asks: ‘Now, how can an external intuition (Wie kann nun eine äussere Anschauung) anterior to objects themselves, and in which our conception of objects can be determined a priori, exist in human mind (dem Gemüte beiwohnen, die vor den Objekten selbst vorhergeht, und in welcher der Begriff der letzteren a priori bestimmt werden kann?)?’ He answers: ‘Obviously not otherwise (Offenbar nicht anders,) than in so far as it has its seat in the subject only, as the formal capacity of the subject’s being affected by objects, and thereby of obtaining immediate representation, that is intuition (als so fern sie bloss im Subjekte, als die formale Beschaffenheit desselben, von Objekten affiziert zu werden, und dadurch unmittelbare Vorstellung derselben d. i. Anschauung zu bekommen); consequently, only as the form of the external sense (also nur als Form des äusseren Sinnes überhaupt.).’ (B 41, tr. Meiklejohn)

But there is a profound paradox concerning this similarity, for from Kant’s point of view space has no objective reality, whereas neurophysiology could develop only because scientists regarded the outside world of our sensory perception as a stepping stone towards examining things in the outside world in their relation to one another, observing what effects they have on each other, what they do to each other – in space and time that have objective reality.

Kant says that ‘space does not represent any property of objects as things in themselves, nor does it represent them in their relations to each other (Der Raum stellt gar keine Eigenschaft irgend einiger Dinge an sich, oder sie in ihrem Verhältnis auf einander vor,); in other words, space does not represent to us any determination of objects such as attaches to the objects themselves (d. i. keine Bestimmung derselben, die an Gegenständen selbst haftete,), and would remain (und welche bliebe,), even though all subjective conditions of the intuition were abstracted (wenn man auch von allen subjektiven Bedingungen der Anschaung abstrahierte.).’ (B 42) His ‘expositions, consequently, teach the reality (Unsere Erörterungen lehren demnach die Realität) (i.e. the objective validity (d.i. die objective Gültigkeit)) of space in regard of all (des Raumes in Ansehung alles dessen,) which can be presented to us externally as object (was äusserlich als Gegenstand uns vorkommen kann,), and at the same time also (aber zugleich) the ideality of space (die Idealität des Raumes) in regard to objects (in Ansehung der Dinge,) when they are considered by means of reason as things in themselves (wenn sie durch die Vernunft an sich selbst erwogen werden,), that is, without reference to the constitution of our sensibility (d. i. ohne Rücksicht auf die Beschaffenheiten unserer Sinnlichkeit zu nehmen.).’ And so he maintains that ‘space is nothing (dass er nichts sei,), so soon as we withdraw the condition upon which the possibility of all experience depends (sobald wir die Bedingung der Möglichkeit aller Erfahrung weglassen,) and look upon space as something that belongs to things in themselves (und ihn als etwas, was den Dingen an sich selbst zum Grunde liegt, annehmen).’ (B44)

In contrast, physics is all about the world outside us. It tells us that our eyes are affected neither by light, nor the objects we see around us or by their images, but by the electromagnetic waves scattered by those objects. Neurophysiology tells us that these electromagnetic waves affect photoreceptors on the retina of our eyes, which in their turn trigger a chain of chemical and electrical effects propagated by optic nerves. These effects are processed on the way to the brain and in the visual cortex of the brain. There is no light in the outside world which is the domain of physics, and no light in the brain itself, which is the domain of neurophysiology. On the basis of the physiological processing of the optic information in the brain something in us generates light in us and the world which we see in that light as being outside us.  In ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ on my website I have adopted for this ‘something in us’ the term human spiritual nature, HSN.

The world outside us described by physics is linked to the ‘world outside us’ of our consciousness by our nerve system, so that the latter points to the former in all its objective reality. For Kant, space and time have only subjective reality; they are nothing without their reference to our sensory nature. In spite of this profound difference, the Kantian subjectivity of space and time remains relevant for our understanding of human spiritual nature.

Kant says: ‘Time is the formal condition a priori (Die Zeit ist die formale Bedingung a priori) of all phenomena whatsoever (aller Erscheinungen überhaupt). Space (Der Raum,), as the pure form of external intuition (als die reine Form aller äusseren Anschauung), is limited as a condition a priori to external phenomena alone (ist als Bedingung a priori bloss auf äussere Erscheinungen eingeschränkt.). On the other hand (Dagegen,), because all representations (weil alle Vorstellungen,), whether they have or have not external things for their objects (sie mögen nun äussere Dinge zum Gegenstande haben, oder nicht,), still in themselves (doch an sich selbst,), as determinations of the mind (als Bestimmungen des Gemüts,), belong to our internal state (zum inneren Zustande gehören,); and because this internal state is subject to the formal condition of the internal intuition, that is, to time (dieser innere Zustand aber, unter der formalen Bedingung der inneren Anschauung, mithin der Zeit gehört,) – time is a condition a priori of all phenomena whatsoever (so ist die Zeit eine Bedingung a priori von aller Erscheinung überhaupt,) – the immediate condition of all internal, and thereby the mediate condition of all external phenomena (und zwar die unmittelbare Bedingung der inneren (unserer Seelen) und eben dadurch mittelbar auch der äusseren Erscheinungen). If I can say a priori (Wenn ich a priori sagen kann:), “All outward phenomena are in space (alle äusseren Erscheinungen sind im Raume, und nach den Verhältnissen des Raumes a priori bestimmt,),” I can also, from the principal of the internal sense, affirm universally (so kann ich aus dem Prinzip des inneren Sinnes ganz allgemein sagen:), “All phenomena whatsoever (alle Erscheinungen überhaupt), that is, all objects of the senses (d. i. alle Gegenstände der Sinne), are in time (sind in der Zeit,) and stand necessarily in relations of time (und stehen notwendigerweise in Vehältnissen der Zeit.).”’ (B50-51, tr. Meiklejohn, with one exception; I wrote: All phenomena whatsoever (alle Erscheinungen überhaupt) for Meiklejohn’s All phenomena in general.)

If we compare and contrast the immediate content of our consciousness, that is the world as we see it in front of us, with the information concerning the world in front of us processed in our brain – the more we study neurophysiology, the more pronounced the contrast becomes – the importance of the Kantian notion of space and time as a priori conditions of our subjectivity becomes obvious.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Kant and self-knowledge

In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant pursues self-knowledge (Selbsterkenntnis) in a new way  (aufs neue, A XI). In his view, what we perceive as the outside world is in its totality produced by human mind. His view of human mind is thus strikingly similar to the view of human spiritual nature that neurophysiology opens for us.

Neurophysiology informs us that what we see is in its totality created by us on the basis of transformations that the oncoming stimuli undergo in the brain; the information on the basis of which we perceive the outside world is stored and structured in the brain in a completely different way from the way in which the world that we see is structured. This means, that what we ‘perceive by our senses’ is in its entirety produced by our spiritual nature, as I have argued in ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ on my website.

Kant says that ‘by means of the external sense (Vermittelst des äusseren Sinnes,) which is a property of the mind (einer Eigenschaft unseres Gemüts), we represent to ourselves objects as without us, and these all in space (stellen wir uns Gegenstände als ausser uns, und diese insgesamt im Raume vor).’ (B 37) He maintains that ‘space is nothing else (Der Raum ist nichts anderes,) than the form of all phenomena of the external sense (als nur die Form aller Erscheinungen äusserer Sinne,), that is, the subjective condition of the sensibility (d.i. die subjektive Bedingung der Sinnlichkeit,), under which alone external intuition is possible (unter der allein uns äussere Anschauung möglich ist, B 42)’. (Tr. Meiklejohn)

Meiklejohn’s ‘sensibility’ for Kant’s Sinnlichkeit is as misleading as his ‘intuition’ for Kant’s Anschauung. In Kant’s terminology,  Anschauung is an immediate (unmittelbare) perception (or projection, putting-in-front, Vorstellung, B 41) of an object of our sensory faculty (Sinnlichkeit). In Kant’s view all objects of our sensory perception, which we view as in the space outside us, are the products of our subjectivity, i. e. ‘that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of phenomena’ (dass alle unsere Anschauung nichts als die Vorstellung von Erscheinung sei (B 59). Kant’s Erscheinung, ‘phenomenon’, is any object (Gegenstand) of an empirical intuition (einer empirischen Anschauung); empirical (empirisch) is that intuition (diejenige Anschauung), which relates to any object by means of sensation (welche sich auf den Gegenstand durch Empfindung bezieht); Empfindung, ‘sensation’, is the effect of an object (die Wirkung eines Gegenstandes) upon the faculty of sensory perception (auf die Vorstellungsfähigkeit, B 34). In Kant’s view ‘what we call objects outside us (was wir äussere Gegenstände nennen,), are nothing else but mere representations of our sensibility (nichts anderes als blosse Vorstellungen unserer Sinnlichkeit sind, B 45)’; all objects of our senses (alle Ojekte der Sinne) are nothing else but mere phenomena (blosse Erscheinungen, B 66).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An urgent request addressed to the Pension Service

Dear Pension Service,

On March 20 I wrote to you: “Today I have received your letter of 14/03/2015 in which you inform me of my pension. In the paragraph entitled ‘How your benefit is made up’ you write: ‘Basic State Pension £37.10. Pre 97 additional State Pension 2.85. Minus Adjustment of £13.00. The amount each week is £26.95.’ Would you explain to me on what basis you are making the Minus Adjustment of £13.00?”

In a letter of 31 March 2015 Glyn Caron replied: ‘I have been requested to reply to your letter of 20th March 2015. As you are aware you have an overpayment of Pension Credit to pay.’

In my letter of 4th April I wrote to her:
'What you wrote in your letter is wrong. I am not aware that I have ‘an overpayment of Pension Credit to pay’. I have been aware, of course, that in 2009 I have been charged with the debt of £11,856.70, and that ever since the pay I have been receiving was weekly lessened by a certain amount. In 2009 it was 9.50 a week, now it is £13.00 a week. All my attempts to learn on what basis I have been found in debt have thus far remained unanswered.
Those who asked you to reply to my letter ought to have given you access to the basic facts underlying the whole matter. Instead, you have been left in the dark. If you are not allowed an access to the facts, would you inform me to whom I should appeal, who would have the power to ask for and obtain an access to those facts?'

In a letter of 09 April she replied:
'I have been requested to reply to your email of 4th April 2015. Your initial enquiry was regarding the £13.00 minus adjustment to your State Pension which I feel I answered.'

May I therefore address to you my question once again: On what basis have the Pension Service found me in debt of £11,956.70 ? My request is urgent. On the 1st of September I shall be separating from my wife. From then on I shall live on my State Pension, at Oxford. My State Pension, even if it were paid to me in full, is not sufficient for my renting any accommodation at Oxford; I shall be therefore spending my nights in front of Balliol College, my days at Bodleian Library. But it would make a great difference, if I feed myself on £39.95 instead of £26.95.

Let me bring to your attention the following: On 7 October 2009 I wrote to Ursula Grum from the Debt Management: ‘Would you tell me, please, how you arrived at the sum £11,846.70, which I allegedly still owe you?’ In reply she sent me the following ‘Overpayment Calculation’:

From 01/08/2005 to 09/04/2006, weeks 36, incorrect paid £71.9, excess £71.9, amount overpaid £2,588.40. From 10/04/2006 to 30/07/2006, weeks 16, incorrect paid £78.14, excess £78.14, amount overpaid £1,250.24. From 31/07/2006 to 08/04/2007, weeks 36, incorrect paid £62.21, excess £62.21, amount overpaid £2,239.56. From 09/04/2007 to 06/04/2008, weeks 52, incorrect paid £68.8, excess £68.8, amount overpaid £3,577.60. From 07/04/2008 to 19/10/2008, weeks 28, incorrect paid £75.28, excess £75.28, amount overpaid £2,107.84. The sum total: £11,763.04.

This means that all the money that I had received from Pension Service from 01/08/2005 to 19/10/2008 were simply summed up as my ‘debt’. As soon as you realize this, you will find that it must be wrong.

I hope to be hearing from you soon,
Yours faithfully
Julius Tomin

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kant and the subconscious

In ‘Back to Kant?’ (posted on May 31) I noted that the ancients did not have a word for the subconscious, and that the sceptics could therefore argue that since the parts of the argument do not mutually co-exist the argument too will seem to be non-existent. I remarked that this argument ought to have alerted philosophers to the reality and the function of the subconscious, but that it, apparently, didn’t do so. But the fact that the ancients did not have the word for the subconscious did not mean that all of them failed to reflect on it. When Socrates says in Plato’s Phaedrus ‘I can’t as yet know myself (ou dunamai pȏ gnȏnai emauton); I am examining myself (skopȏ emauton), whether I am a beast more complex than a Typho [a hundred-headed monster] (eite ti thêrion on tunchanȏ Tuphȏnos poluplokȏteron), or a simpler, gentler being (eite hêmerȏteron kai haplousteron zȏion, 229e-230a)’, he is referring to and exploring the subconscious part of his being. – And so I asked: ‘What about Kant?’

In the ‘Introduction’ to the Critique Kant elucidates the difference between analytical and synthetical judgements. Concerning the former he says: ‘For example, when I say (Z. B. wenn ich sage:), “All bodies are extended (alle Körper sind ausgedehnt,),” this is an analytical judgement (so ist dies ein analytisch Urteil.). For I need not go beyond the conception of body in order to find extension connected with it, but merely analyse the conception of body in order to find extension connected with it (Denn ich darf nicht über den Begriff, den ich mit dem Körper verbinde, hinausgehen, um die Ausdehnung, als mit demselben verknüpft, zu finden,), but merely analyse the conception (sondern jenen Begriff nur zergliedern,), that is become conscious of the manifold properties which I think in that conception (d. i. des Mannigfaltigen, welches ich jederzeit in ihm denke, mir nur bewusst werden,), in order to discover this predicate in it (um diesen Prädikat darin anzutreffen;): it is therefore an analytical judgement (es ist also ein analytisches Urteil.).’ (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, nach der ersten und zweiten Original-Ausgabe neu herausgegeben von Raymund Schmidt, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1956, p. 45; translations are  J. M. D. Meiklejohn’s, unless said otherwise.)

When Kant says that by analysing a concept one becomes conscious (bewusst) of its manifoldness, which one always thinks in it (jederzeit in ihm denke), he points to the subconscious in our thoughts.

The concept of synthetical judgements Kant elucidates with an example from geometry: ‘”A straight line between two points is the shortest,” is a synthetical proposition (Dass die gerade Linie zwischen zwei Punkten die kürzeste sei, ist ein synthetischer Satz.). For my conception of straight contains no notion of quantity (Denn mein Begriff vom Geraden enthält nichts von Grösse,), but is merely qualitative (sondern nur eine Qualität.). The conception of the shortest (Der Begriff des Kürzesten) is therefore wholly an addition (kommt also gänzlich hinzu,), and by no analysis can it be extracted from our conception of a straight line (und kann durch keine Zergliederung aus dem Begriffe der geraden Linie gezogen werden.). Intuition must therefore here lend its aid (Anschauung muss also hier zu Hilfe genommen werden,), by means of which, and thus only (vermittels deren allein), our synthesis is possible (die Synthesis möglich ist.) (p. 49).’

Kant notes that the apodictic certainty that accompanies such propositions misleads people to believing that they are analytic judgements: ‘We must join in thought a certain predicate to a given conception (Wir sollen nämlich zu einem gegebenen Begriffe ein gewisses Prädikat hinzudenken,), and this necessity cleaves already to the conception (und diese Notwendigkeit haftet schon an den Begriffen.). But the question is, not what we must join in thought to the given conception (Aber die Frage ist nicht, was wir zu dem gegebenen Begriffe hinzudenken sollen,), but what we really think therein, though only obscurely (sondern was wir wirklich in ihm, obzwar nur dunkel, denken,), and then it becomes manifest (und da zeigt sich,) that the predicate pertains to these conceptions, necessarily indeed, yet not as thought in the conception itself, but by virtue of an intuition, which must be added to the conception (dass das Prädikat jenen Begriffen zwar notwendig, aber nicht als im Begriffe selbst gedacht, sondern vermittels einer Anschauung, die zu dem Begriffe hinzukommen muss, anhänge.). (p. 50)‘ – Kant brings here to consciousness the distinction between that which we subconsciously think in a concept, and that which we subconsciously add to it by virtue of an ‘intuition’ in a judgement.

I have put ‘intuition’ in quotation marks, for it can be very misleading. The Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary gives two definitions of ‘intuition’: 1. ‘the ability to know something by using your feelings rather than considering the facts’, 2. ‘an idea or a strong feeling that something is true although you cannot explain why’. Kant’s Anschauung is a factual concept; it concerns our looking at what is in front of us.

When I put on my website ‘Human spiritual nature and the X of neurophysiologists’ and then its revised version ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’, I thought it was all I could ever say on the subject of the interplay between the subconscious and consciousness. Kant’s Critique appears to be opening for me a deeper and more nuanced understanding of this interplay.

In the last paragraph of the ‘Introduction Kant says ‘that there are two sources of human knowledge (dass es zwei Stämme der menschlichen Erkenntnis gebe,) (which probably spring from a common, but to us unknown root (die vielleicht aus einer gemeinschaftlichen, aber uns unbekannten Wurzel entspringen,)), namely, sense and understanding (nämlich Sinnlichkeit und Verstand,). By the former, objects are given to us, by the latter, thought (durch deren ersteren uns Gegenstände gegeben, durch den zweiten aber gedacht werden.).’ – Neurophysiology corroborates Kant’s hypothesis. Our sense-perceptions as well as our thoughts are related to the bio-chemic and bio-electrical activities of our neurons, which must be transformed and presented by the subconscious to our consciousness: Kant’s text is in front of my eyes; I perceive it by my sense (Sinnlichkeit), that is by my eyes, and think it by my understanding (Verstand); the subconscious is the common root (die gemeinschaftliche Wurzel) that brings perception and thought into unity.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Plato’s Forms and Kant’s a priori

In ‘An afternoon at Balliol’ (posted on May 17) I wrote: ‘The philosophic affinity between Plato’s Forms and Kant’s a priori concepts is obvious.’ As soon as I posted the text, I began to have doubts whether I was entitled to make that statement, for in making it I basically relied on Tennemann: ‘In the last brief section of his Critique of Pure Reason Kant proposes the history of pure reason (Die Geschichte der reinen Vernunft) as the task that remains to be done; it is to be the history of philosophy as it culminated in the discovery of truth. A German philosopher W. G. Tennemann undertook this task, and he began to fulfil it with his System of Platonic Philosophy (System der Platonischen Philosophie, published in 1792). On the assumption that the more truth a philosophic system contains, the more it approximates Kant, he rejected the ancient dating of Plato’s Phaedrus as his first dialogue. In his view, Plato’s philosophy developed towards the theory of Forms in the Phaedrus, as all subsequent philosophy developed towards Kant’s idea of a priori.’ – I had to return to Kant and see, whether Tennemann’s claim, which I had appropriated, could be justified.

At first glance, the claim is untenable. In the ‘Introduction’ to the 2nd edition of the Critique Kant says: ‘That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt … In respect of time, therefore, no knowledge of ours is antecedent to experience, but begins with it’ (tr. J. M. D. Meiklejohn).

Plato says in the Phaedrus that only the soul that has beheld the Forms can be incarnated in the human bodily shape: ‘Human beings must understand what is said according to Form (dei gar anthrȏpon sunienai kat’ eidos legomenon), for what is spoken passes from a plurality of perceptions (ek pollȏn ion aisthêseȏn) and must be gathered together into unity by reason (eis hen logismȏi sunairoumenon); and this is a recollection of those entities (touto d’ estin anamnêsis ekeinȏn) which our soul once beheld (ha pot’ eiden hêmȏn hê psuchê) as it journeyed with god (sumporeutheisa theȏi) … when it rose up to what truly is (ankupsasa eis to on ontȏs)’. (249b5-c4).

Referring presumably to the opening paragraph in Kant’s ‘Introduction’, quoted above, Raymund Schmidt, the editor of the 1956 edition, writes in his ‘Sachregister’ that a priori in Kant does not mean a priority in time, being inborn, but a transcendental priority (a priori: bei Kant nicht in zeitlicher Bedeutung = angeboren, sondern in transcendentaler). But note the second paragraph of Kant’s ‘Introduction’: ‘But, though all our knowledge begins with experience (Wenn aber gleich alle unsere Erkenntnis mit der Erfahrung anhebt,), it by no means follows that all arises out of experience (so entspringt sie darum doch nicht eben alle aus der Erfahrung.). For, on the contrary, it is quite possible (Denn es könnte wohl sein,) that our empirical knowledge (dass selbst unsere Erfahrungserkenntnis) is a compound of that (ein Zusammengesetztes aus dem sei,) which we receive through impressions (was wir durch Eindrücke empfangen,), and that (und dem,) which the faculty of cognition supplies from itself (was unser eigenes Erkenntnisvermögen aus sich selbst hergibt,) (sensuous impressions giving merely the occasion (durch sinnliche Eindrücke bloss veranlasst)), an addition which we cannot distinguish from the original element given by sense (welchen Zusatz wir von jenem Grundstoffe nicht eher unterscheiden,), till long practice has made us attentive to, and skilful in separating it (als bis lange Űbung uns darauf aufmerksam und zur Absonderung desselben geschickt gemacht hat.)’ (tr. J. M. D. Meiklejohn).

The following passage from the 1st part of the ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’ fully justifies Tennemann’s view that Plato’s Forms in the Phaedrus point to Kant’s a priori: ‘That which in the phenomenon corresponds to the sensation, I term its matter (In der Erscheinung nenne ich das, was der Empfindung korrespondirt, die Materie derselben,); but that (dasjenige aber,) which effects (welches macht,) that the content of the phenomenon (dass das Mannigfaltige der Erscheinung) can be arranged under certain relations (in gewissen Verhältnissen geordnet werden kann,), I call its form (nenne ich die Form der Erscheinung.). But that in which our sensations are merely arranged (Da das, worinnen sich die Empfindungen allein ordnen), and by which they are susceptible of assuming a certain form (und in gewisse Form gestellt werden können,), cannot be itself sensation (nicht wiederum Empfindung sein kann,). It is, then, the matter of all phenomena that is given to us a posteriori (so ist uns zwar die Materie aller Erscheinung nur a posteriori gegeben,); the form must lie ready a priori for them in the mind (die Form derselben aber muss zu ihnen insgesamt im Gemüte a priori bereitliegen,), and consequently can be regarded separately from all sensation (und daher abgesondert von aller Empfindung können betrachtet warden,)’ (tr. J. M. D. Meiklejohn). (Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, nach der ersten und zweiten Original-Ausgabe neu herausgegeben von Raymund Schmidt, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1956, p. 64) –I apologize for not revising Meiklejohn’s translation; I let it stand, for it does not distort Kant’s thought significantly.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Meiklejohn’s translation of Kant’s Critique

The theme of the subconscious kept dominating my thoughts. On my daily walks, I could not help marvelling at the precision with which my subconscious re-presented to my consciousness the field on which I was walking, the footpath, the grass, the flowers, the trees – there was a little ladybird on a leaf of grass in front of me, a little to my right, I watched it, as it flew away – my subconscious presented all this to me on the basis of the chemical and electric activities that were taking place in my nerve system, beginning with the photoreceptors on the retina an ending up in the visual cortex. Then I heard a blackbird singing. It must have been in a tree in the hedgerow, some thirty feet away, I strained my eyes, I approached the hedgerow, I wanted to see the bird, but I could spot it only when it flew off. Listening to the bird, seeing the tree where was sitting, walking towards the tree, trying to find the bird, seeing it flying off – all these perceptions and thoughts must have involved thousands and thousands of interconnected neurons, all engaged in their biochemical and electric activities, located at different parts of brain, at different brain centres. And on that basis my subconscious re-presented to my consciousness the field with its footpath, the hedgerow with the tree on which the bird sat, the birds song, which affected my eyes and ears by virtue of electromagnetic waves scattered by all those objects and my ears by virtue of air waves generated by the vibrations produced by the blackbird.

And I could not help avoiding the theme on my blog: ‘Ancient Greek and the interplay of consciousness and the subconscious’, posted on May 5.

And I could not help wondering, whether I had not done injustice to Kant, when after reading the ‘Preface’ to the 1st and 2nd edition of the Critique and the ‘Introduction’ to its 2nd edition I concluded that in his way of thinking there was no place for the subconscious. And so I asked my wife to order for me an English translation of it. ‘What translation?’ she asked. On Amazon, J. M. D. Meiklejohn’s translation figures as the first, with four stars rating; we ordered it.

When I got the translation, I wanted to confront my understanding of several passages in Kant’s ‘Prefaces’ to his 1st and 2nd edition of the Critique with Meiklejohn’s understanding of them. But Meiklejohn did not bother to translate the ‘Prefaces’; his translation opens with Kant’s ‘Introduction’. I thought about asking my wife to order me some other translations; with my state pension of £ 28.38 a week? How many other books, much more important for my work, should I ask my wife to order for me, beginning with Ast’s Lexicon Platonicum? Disgusted, I decided to forget about Kant.

But then I wrote an ‘Invitation’ to my ‘Afternoon at Balliol’ (posted on May 17) in which I could not fail to mention Kant in connection with my discussion of the subconscious, one of the themes I would have liked to discuss with my Oxford colleagues on the occasion:

The ability to produce the world of our consciousness, the ability we all have as human beings, could not be acquired by our individual activities in our early childhood. Think just how long it takes a child to learn its mother tongue. This ability must be the result of the evolutionary process that started with the first living organisms acquiring the capability of sensing and avoiding external danger, of sensing sources of sustenance outside of them and moving towards them. Only spiritual nature, however primitive it may have been in its initial stage, could produce within it what was outside these organisms, doing so on the basis of the effects that the environment had on those primitive organisms. Space and time, which Kant rightly views as a priori representations (a priori Vorstellungen), which precede and make possible all our sense perceptions (Empfindungen), are in fact the result of all this development, are its a posteriori. It is within the framework of this evolutionary development that we should view and appreciate human cultural development and the benefits that can be derived from Ancient Greek.’

Uncertain of how I should translate into English Kant’s Vorstellungen, I took recourse to Meiklejohn. The concept appears in the very first paragraph of the ‘Introduction’, not an easy read in Kant’s convoluted German. I was delighted with Meiklejohn’s lucid English: ‘That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt (Dass alle unsere Erkenntnis mit der Erfahrung anfange, daran ist gar kein Zweifel;) For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise (denn wodurch sollte das Erkenntnisvermögen sonst zur Ausübung erweckt werden,) otherwise than by means of objects (geshähe es nicht durch Gegenstände) which affect our senses (die unsere Sinne rühren), and partly of themselves produce representations (und teils von selbst Vorstellungen bewirken,), partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity (teils unsere Verstandestätigkeit in Bewegung bringen,), to compare to connect, or to separate these (diese zu vergleichen, sie zu verknüpfen oder zu trennen,), and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects (und so den rohen Stoff sinnlicher Eindrücke zu einer Erkenntnis der Gegenstände zu verarbeiten,), which is called experience (die Erfahrung heisst?)? In respect of time (Der Zeit nach), therefore, no knowledge of ours is antecedent to experience (geht also keine Erkenntnis in uns vor der Erfahrung vorher,), but begins with it (und mit dieser fängt alle an.).’

Concerning Meiklejohn’s translation of Kant’s Vorstellung as ‘representation’ I must make a corrective remark. It well corresponds to the view opened to me by modern science, physics and neurophysiology in particular – the outside world affects our sense organs, these effects are processed by our nerve system; on this basis our subconscious represents the outside world to our consciousness – but understood as such, it would thoroughly misrepresent Kant’s view. To clarify this point, let me quote the closing passage of the 1st section of Kant’s ‘Transcendental Aesthetic’, which is devoted to ‘Space’: ‘the transcendental conception of phenomena in space is a critical admonition (der transzendentale Begriff der Erscheinungen im Raume [ist] eine kritische Erinnerung,), that, in general, nothing which is intuited in space is a thing in itself, and that space is not a form which belongs as a property to things (dass überhaupt nichts, was im Raume angeschaut wird, eine Sache an sich, noch dass der Raum eine Form der Dinge sei, die ihnen etwa an sich selbst eigen wäre,); but that objects are quite unknown to us in themselves (sondern dass uns die Gegenstände an sich gar nicht bekannt sind,), and what we call outward objects (und, was wir äussere Gegenstände nennen), are nothing else but mere representations of our sensibility (nichts anderes als blosse Vorstellungen unserer Sinnlichkeit sind), whose form is space (deren Form der Raum ist), but whose real correlate, the thing in itself (deren wahres Korrelatum aber,d. i. das Ding an sich selbst), is not known by means of these representations (dadurch gar nicht erkannt wird,), nor ever can be (noch erkannt werden kann,), but respecting which, in experience, no inquiry is ever made (nach welchem aber auch in der Erfahrung niemals gefragt wird.).’

The English translation is again Meiklejohn’s. Concerning it I have only one serious objection. Meiklejohn translates Kant’s überhaupt nichts, was im Raume angeschaut wird, eine Sache an sich [ist] with the words ‘in general, nothing which is intuited in space is a thing in itself’. My Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary tells me that ‘in general’ means ‘usually’, ‘mainly’; Kant’s überhaupt nichts means ‘nothing at all’.