Friday, 11 March 2011

sophia and phronesis

There is more than one way to skin a cat (or, if you like, a seal).

A story can be seen and interpreted in any number of ways, more so with myths and legends (is there a difference between "myths" and "legends"?) which acquire a degree of patina and depth the more time has passed. This is how philosophy was invented (or discovered) through discussion of the narrative, by analysing "he said, she said", and what should or ought to have been done, and what we admire or loath about a hero/villian.

There is in mathematics this thing called Hilbert space, a highly abstract conception of space and the forms and trajectories that are possible within it. This abstract space is to maths as ethics (and morality) is to the narrative, which we call "philosophy" - whether it be "primitive" and plain or "sophisticated" and baroque is merely incidental for our purposes here.

Inuit legends are cultural narratives that are highly amenable to the philosophical space where it works its magic and raises questions it never asked, nor implied its true depth in its verbal presentation. The story of Atanaarjuat, for eg, begins with a vignette of a shamanistic seance where the old leader is beaten in a contest and deposed and the "villainous" victor hands over the symbol of power over to the ambitious son, Saurraq, and apparently gives a blessing "here, what you've always wanted".

A philosophical (or ethical) treatment of the story gives it that Shakespearean quality that all great epics are capable of imparting to human thought/reflection where wisdom lies.

Aristotle, in his Ethics, distinguished two modes of knowledge (sophia and phronesis) that is uncannily in cognate with the epistemology of Inuit Qaujimaningit (or Inuit Knowledge). Sophia (qaujimaniq) is the knowledge of the workings of the physical universe (or techincal knowledge, if you like) and Phronesis (silatuniq) has to do with the ability to examine and deliberate on the possible consequences of applying what we already know how to do.

The ambitious son, through sheer will to power, knew that his status would reap benefits for him and his family but he lacked the comportment of silatuniq to anticipate the sorry fruits of his labours which culminated in his own murder by his likewise-ambitious, libido-ridden son, and utlimately the shaming of his own children.

It is philosophy to consider "lessons of history", to ask questions of meaning and value of human life, to examine ourselves (hopefully, for self-improvement) in relation to personality archetypes in a safe environment. Though these are highly personal and subjective reflections they are inherent in and consequential of a mature treatment of "myths" and "legends". But silatuniq thinking is not explicit but rather like the issue of self an emergent property that require active contemplation and discussion to be realized.

I know that our current "secular" education (big "P") Policy for aboriginal Canada (which stems from universalism (not liberalism)) has something about it that makes it uncomfortable with and ambivalent about issues of specific "culture". But this is ideology, and as such, not political/philosophical in nature, as it confuses wisdom as being the sole and unique purview of theology. A more intellectually honest discourse, such as what used to be called the "liberal arts", has no such prejudice and would naturally be much more welcoming of IQ as a curriculum worthy of teaching to Inuit children.

Jay

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