Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Aphorisms = wisdom?

I'm often struck by the philosophical similarities between Inuit Qaujimaningit (IQ, or Inuit Knowledge) and Taoism (as written by Lao Tzu). In fact, I think ancient IQ comes from the same source as Taoism. Taoism is not a religion - its spirituality arises out of the recognition that human beings are subject to The Way (that which blunts the sharpness; untangles the knot; merges with the dust; which is hidden but ever present...).

I think there is a certain degree of mistranslation of "the way". I think it is closer to Inuit conception of piqqusiq - which has many hues of meaning but all stemming from the concept of essence or esprit. Lao Tzu's writings imply that "the way" is "the way things are in Nature/Universe" - ie, as being outside of human foibles and immature expectations.

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used but never filled
Unfathomable source of ten thousand things

in semiological terms, I'd propose to analyse it thus:

wisdom is particular and consequential: it is thinking/acting that is guided by proven principles (the empty vessel)
Nature uses wisdom (as above) and everything it creates has its place and significance accorded to its own within the larger context.

Like the principle of divine love in Christianity, the Tao asks not our empty worship and empty words; it demands action and consistent (ethical and reasonable) behaviour. Empty words and worship are like security blanket for an infant - The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth; the named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

In Inuktitut, the word for wisdom has the same root as Nature/Universe: sila-: silatuniq (wisdom); silarjuaq (Nature and its ways). In other words, to be wise is to emulate the inherent justice and maturity of all that is around us. This inherent justice and maturity appeared to Darwin cruel and dark because he believed in unfounded notions of privileged position (of humanity), permanence and empirical positivism; Taoism and IQ see and expect impartiality and must needs humility of us so as no undue conflict and maladjustment befalls us.

Another thorny translation I find in the English versions of the Tao Te Ching is "non-action". I think the original notion has more to do with "non-interference" or "non-manipulation" rather than "inaction". This notion - at least in IQ - has to do with the concept of respect for the equality of beings.

The bible says that we are created in the image of God. I always take this as we are endowed with reason to deliberate the possible consequences of our actions and thinking (both good and bad). As an Inuk, my notions of silatuniq play into this assumption; so also my admiration of great Western thinkers who've concluded that we can come to know and understand the universe.

Where I claim issues with "science" is that I, like Aristotle, believe complete human knowledge to comprise of sophia and phronesis (or wisdom and knowledge). To paraphrase Aristotle, phronesis is:

"wisdom to take counsel, to judge the goods and evils and all the things in life that are desirable and to be avoided, to use all the available goods finely, to behave rightly in society, to observe due occasions, to employ both speech and action with sagacity, to have expert knowledge of all things that are useful". see: http://grammar.about.com/od/pq/g/Phronesis-term.htm

I think all conscientious free thinkers come to arrive at similar conclusions.

Now, having said that wisdom is particular and consequential but guided by principles, I want to differentiate this notion from aphorisms. Often I have seen people trying to equate wisdom with aphorisms. But wisdom, as I'm trying to describe it here, is made manifest particular to a given context of having to make a deliberated decision or choice, whereas an "aphorism" is defined as: a pithy observation that contains a general truth.

The two (ie, the general and particular forms of wisdom) are aspects of philosophical discourse but an aphorism appeals to impervious "authority" (of experience and knowledge, mind); whereas, wisdom (phronesis) proper appeals to reason and deliberation on part of the thinker. Or, one is a guide (aphorism) - passive, in and of itself - and the other (wisdom) is an act or behaviour (piqqusiq).

The problem with the majority of scientific or technical knowledge is that it tends to have extremely narrow interests (which is both its strength and weakness). Science by itself, like capitalism, has a tendency to subsume and consume everything around it like a mindless monster whose only purpose is to self-justify by virtue of acquiring more and more power.

The beautiful irony of "conscientious" empirical science is that it is "based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than [just] theory or pure logic". In this regard science may claim its uniqueness from mathematics.


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