Philosophy

What is Truth – Take 2?!

This is the second of a series of three mini-essays written for a course exploring various philosophical theories of ‘truth’:

For William James, turn-of-the-last-century adherent of Pragmatism, ‘truth’ was a working hypothesis; if something ‘works’ to enable us to move forward in our search for ‘truth’, then accept it as ‘true’ (for now). By contrast, if you wait until absolutely certain you have found ‘truth’ before calling it such, you will be forever disappointed. James believed that although ‘truth’ is capable of being known, we can never be certain whether or not we have reached it.

Besides, with constant advancement in science and technology, ‘truth’ changes over time. We are always aiming at a moving target.

Although James failed to specify where our target of ‘truth’ might reside and what might be its ultimate purpose, he obviously thought it worthwhile of pursuit. Not all would agree. For example, by the mid-20th century, Deflationists had concluded that there’s nothing special about truth so why bother with it? Despite such developments, James need never to have worried. The continuing 21st century popularity of The Varieties of Religious Experience, James’s epistemological study of the spiritual experience of men and women, suggests his brand of ‘truth’ remains in high demand.

In my view, those wishing to find ‘truth’, at least in an epistemological sense, should consider James’s approach. Pragmatism opens more doors than other theories of truth and keeps them open too. For example, correspondence theorists require ‘truth’ to be shoe-horned into a rigid set of factual constraints, leaving us bereft when the ‘facts’ in play are neither black nor white, but instead clothed in shades of grey.  Equally, Coherence theorists narrow the field by requiring potential new ‘truths’ to either fit comfortably within an existing body of knowledge/understanding or be discarded.

Despite many upsides, Jamesian Pragmatism has downsides.

Although James was pluralistic (i.e. multiple versions of ‘truth’ exist), he was not a relativist, at least not in the sense that one man’s version of the truth is necessarily as good as the next (i.e. ‘anything goes’). Sometimes, however, in practical terms this distinction falls flat.

Consider Donald Trump and his claim regarding numbers attending his 2017 inauguration. Correspondence theorists would not consider this as ‘true’ because it fails to correspond to observable facts. Yet undoubtedly Trump’s ‘truth’ was useful to him, perhaps furthering one of his favourite pursuits, self-aggrandisement. James may also have considered Trump’s claim as useful and thus ‘true’ at least to the extent it furthers our understanding of human nature.

Accepting this ‘truth’ even as a working hypothesis appears dangerous. The challenges of a post-fact, post-truth White House are highlighted daily.

It is disturbing that some have suggested that the late philosopher, Richard Rorty, who actively aligned himself with Jamesian Pragmatism, actually prophesied the coming of ‘truth’ à la Trump.

Other downsides include: if no cares enough about a potential ‘truth’ to attempt to prove it, then it can never be considered as ‘useful’ or not. Equally, the approach may be so scientifically oriented as make it impractical when dealing with certain types of ‘truth’ such as moral imperatives or aesthetic values.  

Philosophy

What is Truth?

This is the first of a series of three mini-essays written for a course exploring various philosophical theories of ‘truth’:

The correspondence theory holds that a truth bearer such as a sentence, is ‘true’ if it can be shown to correspond to some verifiable ‘fact’ (i.e. concrete, empirical evidence) regarding some (often physical) reality.

Undeniably, the correspondence theory has its uses. For example, a statement like it is raining can usually be proven or disproven in regards to correspondence to empirical evidence with a quick look outdoors. It is useful because it conveys useful information (i.e. in this case, whether or not to take an umbrella). However when the perfecting the correspondence of a statement to external evidence is not possible (such as when ‘facts’ in question are neither clear nor able to be adequately observed), the correspondence theory struggles. You may say that it’s raining and that might well be ‘true’, but I am unable to verify your statement because it is too dark outside for me to see, then I’m still left not knowing whether or not to take that umbrella.

Likewise, this theory struggles with statements such as ‘cilantro is delicious’ which at best it is verifiable only in respect to the beliefs of the individual speaker.

What is delicious to one person is not delicious to another. If in doubt consider my own position on the deliciousness of cilantro (thumbs up) in comparison to that of my husband (thumbs down). Worse, neither of us are able to point to any verifiable ‘facts’ or ‘evidence’ to decide our dispute. In the end, all that we have conveyed is opinion and preference, the universal truthfulness of which cannot be proven although it is undeniably useful to know the tastes of my husband when making dinner.

When seeking ‘truth’ regarding statements like the deliciousness of cilantro, the correspondence theory fails. In and of itself, this would not be a problem if everyone were willing and able to acknowledge this and introduce other theories of ‘truth’ where necessary. However history has demonstrated that the promise of an ultimate ‘truth’ can be so alluring, not the least because it provides a (moral) compass by which we can take decisions (perhaps without taking personal responsibility), that many, including adherents of the correspondence theory, cannot resist the temptation to cling to this black and white approach.

When we succumb to this temptation we are left with – at best –  a half-baked view of ‘truth’. For example, if I say that plants communicate danger to each other, most people cannot verify the truth (or falsity) of my statement. Even scientists cannot do so with absolute certainty. Scientists may be able to demonstrate (with some certainty) that grass releases certain chemicals in response to being cut. But whether that chemical release is meant to signal danger (however defined) must remain a hypothesis until scientists can communicate directly with plants with some level of mutual understanding. In the meantime, all we are left with is a working hypothesis that may prove useful in the future regarding our search for ‘truth’.

Correspondence theorists would generally not agree that usefulness should be an important consideration in the pursuit of ‘truth’. I argue that on this point they are also wrong. William James and other adherents of Pragmatism would likely agree with me. Loosely, Pragmatism suggests that which we hold as ‘true’ should lead to some successful action, such as being prepared for the weather or the ability to make a dinner that my entire family will enjoy. Unfortunately a detailed discussion of Pragmatism must await another day.

Astrology

Growth & Expansion

What are you inviting to expand and grow in your life that many not serve you as well as you might initially have thought?

It’s tempting for forget – or perhaps even to ignore – that which we invited into our lives with the New Moon in Pisces (at the beginning of this week) is continuing to take hold and grow. Indeed, we will not even begin to see the first shoots of this ‘seedling’ that we’ve planted (consciously or not) until early next week with the 1st quarter Moon.

In the meantime it’s worth remembering that New Moon in Pisces was ‘hosted’ by Jupiter, the planetary ruler of Pisces. It’s also worth remembering that Jupiter is currently in the zodiac sign of Capricorn where it is considered to be debilitated, or in ‘fall’.

In practical terms this means is that which is growing and expanding in your life this lunar cycle may not ultimately be to your benefit. Indeed, it could be worse than that. Think along the lines of the growth/expansion of a tumor – or even the coronavirus – that may ultimately kill you.

To understand what this might mean, consider that (among other things) Jupiter represents the core ‘truths’ in which we believe wholeheartedly. Whenever we set an intention, it is those core ‘truths’ that drive that intention. Yet often enough our intentions – not to mention the core ‘truths’ that drive them – are not given the due consideration that they deserve.


For example, I’ve been running with a ‘truth’ that money is power, neither of which one can ever have too much of, right? Little wonder that my stated intention this lunar cycle was to get more of both!

At one level, my core ‘truth’ is realistic, at least in the sense that it certainly does seem that money makes the world turn. At another level, however, this ‘truth’ has long been making a mess in my personal life as well as my most intimate relationships. I’ve known this for awhile but I can assure you that I’ve done my best to ignore it.

Luckily, (luck is another aspect of Jupiter), I had the opportunity to do a family constellation yesterday with an excellent guide. As the result, I discovered that thistruth’ that I’ve been holding onto about money and power come along with some seriously damaging negative energy. Also I discovered that ‘truth’ (and the negative energy) comes not from me in the here and now but instead from bad stuff that happened in my ancestral line many generations ago.

The ‘healing’ of my ancestral line that came about as the result of the constellation yesterday feels great. Thanks to my excellent guide!! However, it still remains for me to replace that old, outworn, and damaging ‘truth’ about money and power with a new ‘truth’ – something that serves me better.

Astrology

The name of the game is shame?

I don’t know about you, but I often worry about whether by taking poor decisions, I might be making myself bad karma. Mind you, I’m not even certain what karma is, much less how it might work but I’ve always been told that ‘what goes around does come around’ and for the most part, that seems to be true.

Yet, is comeuppance guaranteed? I mean, considering all that’s happening in the world of politics at the moment, I really do have to wonder. Might it be that some folks are so blessed that they can do whatever they want without consequence? 

Regardless, I opt for sensible guidelines and given that Saturn and Pluto are together dancing their jig in Capricorn, I’ll take my lead from them and so ‘shame’ will be the name of my ethical game.


Rather than thinking of shame as a punishment, as we are often wont to do, I figure shame keeps us from doing things that the person that we want to be ought not to do. In this context, shame is not a painful conclusion but a joyous opportunity.


For Buddhists, shame is the frontline defence against inappropriate actions. Such action not only produces negative karma (locking you into the painful cycle of rebirth) but also leads to difficult rebirths.

Even non-Buddhists find inappropriate actions to be trouble.  Folks tend to get annoyed when one steals, murders, and cheats.  Likewise, they shy away from those who frequently lose their temper and fail to honour their commitments.  Indeed, during the course of a single day, you are confronted with a whole host of activities that someone considers inappropriate. If you wished to comply with all of them, you might as well just stay home.


In reality, we cannot always abide by an external set of rules when deciding what we should or should not do.


Yet assuming that you do want to be ethical, then what standard might you use? I suggest using your own ‘sense of shame’.

Astrology

Have some fun…

Astrologically, responsibility equates with Saturn.  With Saturn, we undertake our duties and obligations seriously and achieve.

When things go wrong however, we’re more reluctant to take responsibility. The downside of Saturn is fault and blame.

Nietzsche has suggested that fault and blame are the bitter fruits of ‘responsibility’. In our society, responsibility is not understood in terms of our ‘ability to respond’ but instead in terms of the spirit of revenge.

On the Genealogy of Morals (3:15)

In existentialist terms, the spirit of revenge is a powerful narcotic that numbs the inevitable pain and misery of existence. When we respect misfortune as an inevitable part of living, we can utilise our innate ability to respond to life  (Nietzsche).


 ‘Shit happens’.  It happens despite the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’.

But whilst embraced by the spirit of revenge, no man can respect true misfortune.  He can have no understanding of the context in which misfortune manifests.  Focused on channelling his passions into vengefulness and spite, such a man can never respect, let alone love,  anybody or anything including himself.

Only a foolish man believes that each misfortune which befalls him, was intentionally directed at him. Yet many of us do just that.

Hands up! Just this morning when I was hurrying to get ready, something fell on my foot and left a huge bruise and I blamed my husband who wasn’t even home. 

A more productive approach might be to take ourselves less seriously.   This could be achieved through the more positive aspects of irresponsibility – i.e. having some old-fashioned, light-hearted fun.  Not only does  light-heartedness promote health, but it also helps us to accept the basic realities about life.

The natural antidote of Saturn is Jupiter.  

When your Jupiter  functions properly,  you’re optimistic, take chances and experience good luck.  Too much Jupiter however leads to extravagance and frivolity,  hence the bad associations with irresponsibility.

In my book, balance is the key to health and happiness.  It would seem Nietzsche might agree.  According to him (in a theme developed by Kundera in his novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being,) the heaviest burden (responsibility) is also boundless freedom (irresponsibility).

In this regard, taking responsibility for our own lives allows us to accept it for what it is: a game of chance in which sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

Blaming yourself or another achieves nothing but more pain.

Alchemy

The Daemon of Carl Jung

In Plato’s Republic(The Myth of Ur), souls cue up to choose their next life and are assigned a daemon – an overseer for that life. In classic astrology, daemon could be determined using one’s natal chart and as the result, it was incumbent upon the individual to establish contact with (or invoke) his or her daemon. In many respects, this was exactly what Jung was doing whilst writing and illustrating the Red Book, which he considered to the ‘prima materia’ for his life’s work.

Daemon can be understood as fate – but not fate in the sense that it comes from outside us. Instead, daemon is our personal unconscious pushing through the creative impulse to encourage us to accomplish that which we are meant to do. Naturally, you may choose to reject or ignore Daemon (or your fate) but there is a price to be paid. Equally, following Daemon (either eagerly or begrudgingly) does not guarantee you an easy ride.

Carl Jung had Aquarius rising. This means that Saturn, the ruler of Aquarius was his daemon, or at least it was in his eyes although not all astrologers (classical or modern) might agree.

When it comes to daemon, it isn’t so much that Saturn the planet was running the show but instead the symbolism surrounding Saturn. According to the 3rd century Neo-Platonist, Iamblichus, symbols are the footprints of the gods, wondrous tokens sent down from above. In this sense, a symbol can never be a man-made design. Symbols pre-exist and hence carry energy that exerts power over us not unlike Jung’s archetypes.

Jung

Jung believed it was vital that he understand his daemon – no, more than that – he was determined to establish a personal relationship with his daemon and it is highly likely this was accomplished through magical ritual.

To that end, the Red Book, Jung communicates with several different Saturnian figures (Elijah, The Old Scholar, The Anchorite, The Librarian, and the Professor) that culminate with Philemon (whose name, Jung always wrote in Greek, most probably for magical reasons).

Several key points are of significant interest regarding these Saturnian figures and as ought to be expected in many respects they are all deeply paradoxical.

  • The Saturnian figures in Red Book are all associated with rocks and stones – imperishable – belonging to and of the earth – present in the beginning of time on earth and presumably present at the end. It is not surprising that this stone/rock motif comes up often in Jung’s writings. He had been fascinated with them since youth.
  • Jung’s Saturnian images are all old men – SENEX – they are also thinkers –seekers of wisdom (as opposed to knowledge). Philosophers. They are magicians, too. This is in keeping with the writings of Marsilio Ficino, a 15thcentury Italian scholar who appears to have heavily influenced Jung’s work.
  • All Jung’s Saturnian images are recluses and sad. These are in keeping with traditional associations with Saturn.
  • Several of Jung’s Saturnian images are associated with religion and more specifically, religious experience. Not all of them are complimentary or supportive of religion. Indeed, Philemon is always shown as lame and this might well be suggesting a connection with the devil. Philemon, after all, did always have a serpent hanging around.
  • Philemon was also connected with Mercury, the hermetic figure and the philosopher stone. Hermes Trismegistus, who controlled both the sun and the moon was semi-divine and he is, in essential ways, very much like Philemon (who was also a magician – possessing his own grimoire). This highlights the importance of the ancient art of alchemy. Saturn is lead, the metal of transformation and redemption.

In The Astrological World of Jung’s Liber Novus, Dr Liz Greene suggests that because Philemon drew together Saturnian ideas and images from a number of ancient disciplines and cosmologies, he allowed Jung to build a workable bridge between the pagan and Christian aspects of his own world view.

Those  of us who are interested in similarly understanding the complexity of our own daemon, or chosen ‘fate’, might be well-advised to perform similar invocations and explorations. Dr Greene reminds us that during that difficult period in Jung’s life, his work with Philemon and predecessors gave Jung a connecting thread of meaning that helped him to understand his situation. Likewise, we may also turn to our daemons for help when things get tough.

Never forget, however, that working with daemons is not for the faint of heart. Jung’s daughter reported that things ‘went bump in the dark’ in the house when Jung was working with Philemon – things that we might well call supernatural.

Philosophy

Zen riddles that I like…

Kõ-an – a paradox anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logic and provoke a more direct perception of reality called enlightenment.

Kõ-ans have always exercised an intellectual fascination over those who have come in contact with them. Some have found Kõ-ans profound and intellectually challenging while others have dismissed them as meaningless and absurd. But especially for those living in societies built on Enlightenment principles, the anti-rationalism of Kõ-ans has been a large part of their appeal.  Unknown.png

Although Reason is useful to conceptualize and categorize, it can also trap us in a limited and arbitrary view of the world. Once Reason gets tangled up with our socially conditioned biases, then rather like blinkers on a horse it can do no more than channel us down a predetermined path.

The practical purpose of Kõ-ans is not to rid us of our intellectual capacity but instead to allow it to function in a dispassionate way. This involves breaking down the everyday tyranny of our conditioned intellect by demonstrating the contradictions and absurdities to which it would otherwise necessarily lead.

Unknown.jpegUnlike puzzles and riddles, Kõ-ans do not have pat answers. Indeed, many Kõ-ans are not even in the form of a question. When used properly, Kõ-ans set trains of thought in motion and then derail them. With the continuity of our internal dialogue broken, we are no longer able to maintain our (false) sense of reality.

A properly constructed Kõ-an should contain many layers of personal meaning. It is most certainly not a case of ‘one size fits all’. According to Buddhist teaching, Truth can only be experienced by those who seek Truth for its own sake.  It can never be denied to those who are worthy as equally it can never be imparted to those who are not.

coaching

Existential Coaching

Another coaching model of interest is Existential Coaching – which, like all coaching paradigms, seeks to facilitate positive change. If (1) the popular sports-based models (T-GROW) focus on increased performance and (2)  narrative coaching focuses on crafting a new client story, then (3) Existential Coaching beats a unique path in between.

According to Ernesto Spinelli, the purpose of Existential Coaching is to help people to live more effectively. This is achieved by gaining clarity and renewed purpose. Obviously this may well lead to increased performance too – a bonus, if you will. Likewise, to be successful, it will necessitate crafting a new story, one in line with (newly discovered) highly personal values and beliefs.

images.pngNow, I’m not going to argue that these three coaching models do not overlap. But I will argue that their focus and approach are very different. Their philosophical underpinnings are different as well. For example, T-GROW works on the assumption that we are all wholly rational creatures who, with effort, can control the disparate parts of ourselves.

By contrast, Existential Coaching works on the assumption that there are so many varied (unconscious) ‘things’ going on inside us that complete conscious control is never possible. As there result, T-GROW focuses on problem-solving while Existential Coaching has no choice but to embrace  problems. For T-GROW, anxiety is a hindrance to performance and must be reduced/eliminated. But for existentialists, anxiety is something to be savoured = i.e. a manifestation of the existential truth that life is not perfect and neither are (nor ever will be) you.

Do you recall little Johnnie in my post about Narrative Coaching? The young man who was no longer good because he couldn’t study hard? How might these three coaching models work in his situation?

  1. T-GROW – might help little Johnnie to put in place a plan to study hard again – taking as a given this is requires enhancement for no other reason than because he says so. If successful, T-GROW gets him back up and running on par with a cultural norm.
  2. Narrative Coaching – might help Little Johnnie to reframe his story so that, for example, he might still be good even if unable to study hard. Quite what he does with this, remains up to him. Just as with any good novel, several different endings are possible and now Johnnie needs to pick one.
  3. Existential Coaching – might help little Johnnie to understand that good = studying hard is a culturally imposed standard and this is how others will judge him, full-stop. However, this does not mean that he has to define himself this way. Indeed, he ought not to do that if it does not align with his personal values and beliefs. He should also keep in mind that although he might once have bought 100% into good = studying hard, he no longer has to do. Everything in life changes and this includes his values and beliefs.

Clearly T-GROW will get the fastest results and they will measureable too; especially good if Johnnie’s (new or old) employer is paying the bill.  But although the result is culturally acceptable, it may not be personally appropriate and, in the long run, may not improve Johnnie’s life. Narrative coaching opens up possibilities for Johnnie in the sense that at least he now understands why he believes good = studying hard. But unless his new story is the result of some serious soul-searching, it will likely remain culturally determined without him even realising this is the case. In my view, Existential Coaching provides the best all-around solution but, to be honest, it might take a long time and let face it, the amount of ‘navel-gazing’ required may not be for everyone.

The moral of this seems to be, as I mentioned in my earlier post, that when it comes to coaching models, one size does not fit all.

 

Philosophy

Positive or Negative – or too hard to tell?

 

Each of us is a unique blend of both positive and negative personality traits, both of which help to satisfy our basic wants and needs.

Interestingly, we tend to focus not on our strengths but on our weaknesses because, let’s face it, it’s human nature to concentrate on what goes wrong. Although it is our strengths that support growth and prosperity and our weaknesses that hold us back, sometimes it’s pretty hard to tell the difference. This is especially the case where the result of our efforts yields results that are considered culturally desirable such as, for example, being self-focused enough to succeed in one’s career.2d449eb70c6b936f67f7a2ec90ab133f--negative-character-traits-positive-and-negative

Not surprisingly, however, because so much of our health and happiness comes down to the quality of our relationships (both personal and professional), it only makes sense it is those personality traits that seem damaging to our relationships are the ones upon which we should concentrate our efforts. But how much self-focus is good and how much is bad and which person in the relationship, if it is to survive, needs to change and how?

 

Consider the following:

Cathy is working hard to make this catering event perfect. It is set to lead to some high-profile referrals. As a perfectionist, she’s dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” for the nth time. Meanwhile, her best friend and new employee, Agnes, is in the kitchen polishing serving trays to enhance presentation. Unfortunately, Agnes is having trouble keeping her focus; she can’t stop thinking about her recent break up with her boyfriend and worrying about whether she’ll ever find the right guy.

When a good-looking waiter invites her outside for a quick smoke, Agnes doesn’t think twice. As the result, the appetizers go out to the guests on stained trays and Cathy is furious. Although Cathy realises her friend has been distraught about men as late, she can’t understand why Agnes couldn’t have tried harder just this one time when the stakes were so high for Cathy. Agnes can’t see what is the fuss; Cathy has always been too fussy and after all, Agnes is trying her best to be a good friend.

  • If you were Cathy’s life coach, what might you ask her to consider?
  • If, on the other hand, you were Agnes’ life coach, what might you suggest she consider?
Alchemy

Hidden Dangers of The Hero’s (mythological) Journey

This weekend, I was privileged to participate in an academic conference, The Talking Sky, hosted by the University of Wales and The Sophia Centre. The purpose of the conference was to explore the cultural aspects of diverse myths inspired by the heavens.

Whilst many important points were made, one surfaced time and time again – i.e. although we are fascinated with the sun (ever-popular Celtic fire festivals come to mind), we also fear it and for good reason. Although a source of life, the sun is also deadly dangerous. Myths such as that of Phaethon, son of the Greek solar deity, Helios, who was killed when he foolishly drove his chariot too close to the sun, illustrate this.

** Equally dangerous, perhaps, is our cultural preoccupation with empowerment of the (solar) self? **

320px-Heroesjourney.svgConsider the work of Joseph Campbell and his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores the culturally recurring mythical motif of the hero’s journey. Not only was this motif popularised by films like Star Wars, but it also forms much of the basis of Jungian psychology, the centre-piece of which is ‘individuation’, or the transformational process whereby the (lunar) unconscious is melded into the (solar) consciousness to achieve an integrated personality and (alchemical) psychological growth.images

As Liz Greene acknowledges (The Luminaries), the hero’s journey is a solar process wherein the individual actively and  consciously  drives to develop his worldly goals. Having studied with Liz, I’ve never questioned the value of using this motif in my astrological work; it ticks all the boxes necessary for survival in western culture. But apparently, the well-respected psychologist, James Hillman, has questioned this and, it would seem, with good reason.

Hillman argues that not only is (1) Jungian ‘individuation’ a ‘developmental fantasy’ but also that (2) the solar focus of the hero’s journey is dangerously reductionist. In his book, The Soul’s Code, Hillman promotes what he considers to be the healthier, more holistic (pluralistic) ‘soul-making’ to be our psychological aim. Not only is this in keeping with the cosmology of the ancient Greeks, who saw numen, or the divine, in everything, but also in line with Platonic ideals (Myth of Er), which still underlie so much of western culture.

Arguably, as the speaker at the conference pointed out, contemporary natal (psychological) astrology does not look solely at solar functions. We leave that to the popular Sun Sign columns in magazines and newspapers, which, as another speaker at the conference has suggested, have become a myth in their own right.

images-2Whilst I agree that responsible astrologers do honour the entire natal chart (along with its multitude of inherent mythologies), I acknowledge that Hillman makes valid points which ought not to be ignored. As I’m about to embark on a new career as a ‘coach’ (utilizing astrology), I worry about the stated goal of contemporary coaching – i.e. empowerment of the individual. If, as a coach, what I will be empowering is solely the client’s solar self (or ego), then if Hillman is right I will be doing him or her a huge (reductionist) disservice. However, since that is what it would seem that most coaching clients want, how do I dare to offer them otherwise?

Once I’ve commenced my coaching studies at the University of Cambridge in this autumn, I hope to be in a better position to address these concerns. Watch this space, I suppose.

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