Saturday, July 7, 2012

Intersubjectivity's just another word for nothing left to lose

Don't worry, I'm still putting together more posts, but in the meantime:
Contrary to popular perception, the cause of the eclipse of myth as a way of knowing reality and hence as a path to wisdom is not the contrast between mythos and logos as epistemological instruments, the former allegedly naive and archaic and the latter critical and scientific. It is now widely recognized that the epistemology of empirical sciences, for all  its vaunted claims to objectivity and exactness, is deeply metaphorical. Even the rise of Greek philosophy—the discovery of logos—did not come about by leaving mythos behind. 
Indeed, Greek myths such as those in Hesiod’s Theogony already contain a striking degree of rationality, as is testified by the fact that among the gods there are personifications of concepts such as wisdom, right, lawfulness, justice, and peace. Whereas it is true that Heraclitus and Xenophanes explicitly attacked the accepted mythologies, Sophists such as Protagoras and Prodicus made use of myth as an explanatory tool. Plato himself regarded myth as an ally in the working out of a philosophy. For him, myth not only offers illuminating insights into realities that elude precise explanations but also is particularly appropriate for expressing changing features of the world of becoming. 
It is true that the distinct form of mythos is narrative and that of logos is discursive reasoning. However, this difference did not of itself lead to the depreciation of mythos as a way of knowing. Rather this was due primarily to the move from orality to literacy. With the rise of writing and literacy, orality through which myths and stories are transmitted declined and as the result of this decline the way of thinking in abstract terms and the tendency to viewing the world in mutually exclusive terms increased substantially. Not only the knower became separated from the known, but also the literate from the illiterate. With Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, this separation became vastly exacerbated... 
The invention of the printing press aided and abetted the rise of modernity. In return, modernity favored reading and writing over storytelling and listening; information and proofs over stories; texts, preferably portable (e.g., pocket edition and paperback) that can be read in private and controlled over the free and unpredictable to-and-fro of conversation; the written contract over an oral agreement. The printed text becomes the privileged path to knowledge and wisdom. 
The truth is now inscribed and located in the text, and because it is written down, the truth remains unchangeable and permanent. Indeed, unless recorded in texts, nothing is reliable, authoritative, and true, as is suggested by the expression “as it is written” (today, the equivalent expression is “as seen on TV”!). Furthermore, those who can read texts are “authorities” and have power over the illiterate. The latter are dependent on the former to know what the text says, or more precisely, what they say what the text says. 
In the process, the written text itself becomes the channel of truth and wisdom and the source of power and privilege. Coming to know the truth is made possible only though an objective and scientific interpretation of the text, especially classics and sacred scriptures. As a consequence, truth becomes a commodity at the disposal of the intellectual elite and the powerful class, and logos is an instrument for reasoned and discursive argument. 
By the same token, oral myth-making and storytelling are considered an inferior, imprecise, primitive guide to truth and wisdom. It is no accident that since the 19th-century myth has often been sharply distinguished from history which alone concerns with reality. Mythic consciousness is judged to represent an inferior and primitive stage of mental development incapable of expressing an abstract philosophical truth which should now be made accessible by means of demythologization. 
Even though logos as a path to knowledge and wisdom is in practice reserved for a few, it is thought by modernity to be universal, at least potentially, since everyone can be taught how to read and hence have access to texts. Furthermore, when wedded to technology, logos became principally instrumental reason, and out of this marriage was born the myth of progress. But as has been hinted, the child has become totally unruly and unpredictable, and its future, to judge from the havoc it has played on the human family in the 20th century, remains under threat.

Hard to keep from quoting the entire paper. Highly recommended.


  1. You're reading a paper by someone called Peter Phan?


  2. Quite. The moment one, not having slept in 30 hours, finds oneself reading a paper about mythological consciousness by "Peter Phan" is...fraught.

  3. BTW, don't believe Leah when she says Christianity is Catholic - it's not (Obviously you believe otherwise).

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