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Umberto Eco and Philosophy 
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Post Umberto Eco and Philosophy
Name of the Rose wikipedia page provides some good points of introduction.
MaryLupin wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
I really like Eco's semiotic references to scholastic philosophy. The debate on realism (now known as idealism) and nominalism (now known as empiricism) between Duns Scotus and William of Ockham is at the foundation of the rise of modern science, with roots going back to Plato's Sophist.
I really enjoy the way Eco weaves his philosophic/semiotic understanding with the threads of the story. By doing that he makes this history you mention a thing with breath. By examining books like this much "education" is happening at the same time. In some ways this book is a bit like Sophie's World except The Name of the Rose is more difficult (meant for those willing to work harder at the acquisition of meaning.)
Yes, the best books are those that are informed by a deep humane vision, but which present this vision as an accessible parable in simple language, so that the general reader can like the book as a dramatic narrative while being opened to explore some of the philosophical background.
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Robert Tulip wrote:
Just for fun, here are my views on Plato:Plato compares the effort to make sense of the world to a battle between giants and Gods, in which the difficulties of philosophy are discussed in terms of the quarrel between materialism and idealism. The giants "define reality as the same thing as body, and as soon as one of the opposite party asserts that anything without a body is real, they are utterly contemptuous and will not listen to another word", while on the other side the Gods "are very wary in defending their position somewhere in the heights of the unseen, maintaining with all their force that true reality consists in certain intelligible and bodiless Ideas" (246b)
I have to say I have never liked Plato. I have a visceral reaction to him and his views of the nature of matter and reality.
Your view is how I initially interpreted Plato too. Reading books such as Genevieve Lloyd's The Man of Reason, and some of my mother's feminist theology, led me to equate Plato and Paul as originators of the western alienation between body and spirit. However, then actually reading Plato made me change my view. For example, Plato's four cardinal virtues



Sat Feb 07, 2009 4:03 am
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People do respond to Plato differently. I totally agree with you that is important to actually read Plato before coming to a conclusion about what he means to the Western canon. So of course I have read him, as well as various thinkers' responses to him both for and against.

He does have important things to say about subjects like truth and beauty and of course his methodology is critically important. I would never suggest that he is not a fundamental thinker, nor that any serious student of Western thought should not take him very seriously. I do take him very seriously and hence my problem with his thought.

Although he has much to say about the nature of Beauty, it is what these notions rest on that bother me. To go with what he has to say about Beauty and Truth you have to grant his separation of nature in to Form and Matter. You have to concede that beauty is capital-B Beauty - something apart from the material universe. You also have to grant that matter is something in itself, formless: matter needs Form to enliven it. Everything I know about the world tells me that is just not so. On top of that, everything I have read and experienced about human history tells me that making assumptions about the supreme value (or even mere existence) of a Transcendent leads to bad material decisions.

I suppose philosophically I tend to find myself in the Pragmatist camp at least as it has come to be post Heidegger. Human reality is situated firmly in this world and so any philosophy that wants to situate it in an apart realm such as the Transcendent tends to be, seems to me to be fundamentally anti-human.

As far as Umberto Eco's book goes, it seems to me that the whole point of his semiotics is to stress that meaning is situated. Meaning is something that comes from human interaction with material contexts and not something that depends upon a transcendent realm for its existence. Names are empty, after all; they only get filled up with meaning in their use. The Name of the Rose seems to me fundamentally anti-Platonic in profound ways.



Sun Feb 08, 2009 9:57 pm
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Post Re: Umberto Eco and Philosophy
Robert Tulip wrote:
And yet, the ephemeral, the passing, stands in contradiction to the permanent, the eternal. Poetry points to the eternal, and this is a key difference between Heidegger and Sartre, with their contrasting views on essence and existence. Part of my dissatisfaction with some modern French philosophy came from a suspicion that Derrida suggested a superficial fluid reading of Heidegger which to me seemed to downplay the strong sense of the eternal in Heidegger's thought.


To tell the truth I don't have much use for Sartre. Most of existentialism seems a bit silly to me. I know that puts up backs all around, but there it is.

As for the eternal thing...I may need to think on that a bit more when it comes to Heidegger but it seems to me that where he differs from Husserl's notion of an absolute subjectivity and Heidegger's Dasein is the focus is the emphasis on material context for its meaning. Dasein seems to me to depend entirely for its expression on things like work and living in a way Husserl's absolute subjectivity does not. I see this a movement away from the absolute as we tend to view it in the West. To be honest it is a bit like the difference between Plato and Aristotle when it came to the idea of Form. Whereas Plato saw Form as the 'really real' and materially different (if you can pardon the pun) from matter, Aristotle granted Form's existence but made it inextricably linked to matter for its expression. I think Eco would lump with Aristotle on this and Heidegger on the question of how a human being can express his authentic Dasein.

And as for poetry, I would disagree that poetry points toward the "eternal." I think that the West thinks of poetry that way to a very large extent, but that, of course, doesn't mean it is correct. Poetry does a lot of things. It reaches into the unconscious, it links feeling and words in very conspicuous and overt ways, it pushes words to the limits of their intelligibility therefore opening an aware doorway into the creative aspects of our being. It does all of these things and more as a function of who we are as animals living in this kind of world. None of that is eternal except in the limited sense that it is part of our nature and so it is as eternal as we are. All that means is that we don't know any different since it has been with us for the length of our awareness. I think that is probably as far as we can push the notion of eternal qualities to which poetry has access.

All of this discussion makes me think of Eco and what he was saying by making Aristotle's lost book about laughter and the various ways in which the characters and we the readers respond to that possibility. I mean it is one thing to equate the Master Aristotle with a study of tragedy (I mean that's serious stuff right), but to study laughter? I can understand why Jorge poisons the ink, and why he feels that such a treatise from Aristotle could spell ruin for the church. But for me, what really empowers Eco's book, is not the dynamic between humanism and a theological society, it is the response we as contemporary readers have. It is our interpretation that really matters since we are alive. And to be frank much is still the same. Our discussion is evidence of this I suspect.

Still, regardless of the maintenance of old divisions between those who place an eternal in the center of the universe and those who place flux there, what really matters is that Aristotle's book on laughter still provokes a multitude of interpretations while being universally (well as far as humans go anyway) compelling. This is the point of the library I think. It is that which will always draw us in; it is the bell which causes us all to salivate at its sound. But once we get in, then we fall apart along old interpretive lines and for the most part don't even realize we are doing it. Which, for me, is something to laugh about.



Sun Feb 08, 2009 10:34 pm
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MaryLupin wrote:
To tell the truth I don't have much use for Sartre. Most of existentialism seems a bit silly to me. I know that puts up backs all around, but there it is.
I thought Being and Nothingness was a weak pastiche on Being and Time. Sartre's argument that only the present moment exists is logically absurd.
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As for the eternal thing...I may need to think on that a bit more when it comes to Heidegger but it seems to me that where he differs from Husserl's notion of an absolute subjectivity and Heidegger's Dasein is the focus is the emphasis on material context for its meaning. Dasein seems to me to depend entirely for its expression on things like work and living in a way Husserl's absolute subjectivity does not. I see this a movement away from the absolute as we tend to view it in the West. To be honest it is a bit like the difference between Plato and Aristotle when it came to the idea of Form. Whereas Plato saw Form as the 'really real' and materially different (if you can pardon the pun) from matter, Aristotle granted Form's existence but made it inextricably linked to matter for its expression. I think Eco would lump with Aristotle on this and Heidegger on the question of how a human being can express his authentic Dasein.
Husserl's Ideas and Cartesian Meditations analyse the relation between the knowledge and the known as noesis and noema. Hmmm... You are right that Heidegger brings context into Husserl's abstract phenomenology. Dasein also includes a relation to the eternal, through an atheist approach to incarnation. Heidegger is looking for new absolutes, and this is where his focus on Parmenides and the one is so crucial. Eco's proxy Baskerville is totally Aristotelian. Rather like Sherlock Holmes' indifference to cosmology.
Quote:
And as for poetry, I would disagree that poetry points toward the "eternal." I think that the West thinks of poetry that way to a very large extent, but that, of course, doesn't mean it is correct. Poetry does a lot of things. It reaches into the unconscious, it links feeling and words in very conspicuous and overt ways, it pushes words to the limits of their intelligibility therefore opening an aware doorway into the creative aspects of our being. It does all of these things and more as a function of who we are as animals living in this kind of world. None of that is eternal except in the limited sense that it is part of our nature and so it is as eternal as we are. All that means is that we don't know any different since it has been with us for the length of our awareness. I think that is probably as far as we can push the notion of eternal qualities to which poetry has access.
Maybe what I meant was that I like poetry that has a timeless quality, pointing to permanent ideas that are somehow outside time. The risk is that we seen something as timeless when it is strongly temporally bound, as for example Heidegger's reading of Holderlin, or the attitudes of the Roman church mocked by Eco.
Quote:
All of this discussion makes me think of Eco and what he was saying by making Aristotle's lost book about laughter and the various ways in which the characters and we the readers respond to that possibility. I mean it is one thing to equate the Master Aristotle with a study of tragedy (I mean that's serious stuff right), but to study laughter? I can understand why Jorge poisons the ink, and why he feels that such a treatise from Aristotle could spell ruin for the church. But for me, what really empowers Eco's book, is not the dynamic between humanism and a theological society, it is the response we as contemporary readers have. It is our interpretation that really matters since we are alive. And to be frank much is still the same. Our discussion is evidence of this I suspect.
Laughter represents modernity while tragedy represents tradition. Eco is finding the Renaissance figures, I'm thinking Pico, Galileo and Bruno, in Aristotle in a way that was anathema to the popes. He is uncovering the suppressed Promethean side of Aristotle.
Quote:
Still, regardless of the maintenance of old divisions between those who place an eternal in the center of the universe and those who place flux there, what really matters is that Aristotle's book on laughter still provokes a multitude of interpretations while being universally (well as far as humans go anyway) compelling. This is the point of the library I think. It is that which will always draw us in; it is the bell which causes us all to salivate at its sound. But once we get in, then we fall apart along old interpretive lines and for the most part don't even realize we are doing it. Which, for me, is something to laugh about.
Laughter can be from sarcasm, delight, irony, mockery, buffoonery, etc. Apparently Aristotle thought that laughter is what separates us from the beasts, and that a baby does not have a soul, until the moment it laughs for the first time.

RT



Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:02 pm
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