Category Archives: Uncategorized

Picnic at Hanging Rock


Peter Weir’s 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock shows the fragility of civilisation. Both the film and Joan Lindsay’s eponymous novel (1967), on which the film is based, suggest that beneath the thin veneer of civilisation in general, and the British civilisation in particular, there exists a volcano of emotions and irrational urges, ready to erupt any time. The film starts ominously with an image of the Hanging Rock, a volcanic formation which towers above the pastoral landscape in the vicinity of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria. On Saturday, 14 February 1900, St Valentine’s Day, a group of excited girls is leaving the Appleyard College for a picnic at the rock which is already a tourist attraction. Victoria is at that time still a British colony, just before it becomes part of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federation of all colonies on mainland Australia and Tasmania which is inaugurated on 1 January 1901.


By leaving the college, the girls are venturing into the Australian wilderness where their Britishness will be confronted with the unknown and the primeval, both in nature and in themselves. They live in the best of all possible worlds, in the age of steam and steel, in a colony which is part of the mighty British empire. What can possibly go wrong?

“The dark side of this faith in progress and British civilisation was the fear of the primitive or the elemental, whether in nature or in human beings”, writes Beverley Kingston in The Oxford History of Australia. Australians were aware that they lived at the frontiers of civilisation. Nature in Australia is unforgiving – life was a constant struggle for the colonials, with men and women being exposed to oppressive heat, venomous snakes, obnoxious insects, bushfires, floods, draughts, back-breaking work on the land and the risk of being lost in the forest. Unlike England, Australia was a frontier country, a mysterious place “where anything can happen”.

To go for a picnic in the bush is therefore a risky enterprise, especially when the place is dangerous both in the physical and metaphysical sense. Lindsay describes the rock as a “living monster”. Weir uses sound, music and unusual camera angles to show the rock as a mysterious and threatening place. The Victorian propriety and prudishness, embodied in the institution of the English picnic, are severely tested in an environment entirely alien to civilisation. Nature awakens primeval and atavistic feelings in those susceptible to metaphysical emotions.


In many cultures, mountains and rocks are considered as sacred places. Volcanic outcrops are particularly suitable to be treated as such because of their connection with the depths of the earth. As the Hanging Rock was formed by molten lava that once erupted from beneath the earth, it now has the power to free human emotions from the bondage of reason and reveal that what is hidden in human psyche. The rock is a place of revelation of timeless truths to those who are elected to receive them. One must be prepared to abandon the Cartesian world of Nature arranged according to mathematical formulas, of linear time, uniform space and natural causality. The rock is the “geographical manifestation of the divine”, “axis mundi, rooted deeply in the netherworld” (Diana L. Eck).

In the novel and in the film, the first sign of the rock’s magical powers is that the watches stop exactly at midday. Then everyone becomes sleepy and melancholic. The oneiric atmosphere of the picnic is suggested by the slow movement of the camera, showing one dreamy face after another.


The film starts with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem A dream within a dream, “All that we see or seem Is but a dream within a dream”, and ends with the scene showing the girls ascending the rock, in slow motion, frame by frame.


The culmination of the story is the disappearance of three girls whom we see entering the narrow opening among the boulders. The fourth girl is left behind as she is immune to the magical powers of the rock. She is grounded firmly in the material world, unable to see the unseen and to touch the non-tangible. Only those elected will receive revelation; the fourth girl is barred from the contact with the divine because she is fat, ugly and stupid, and too attached to the world of ordinary matters. For her, the rock has nothing mysterious “It’s nasty here; I’ve never thought it would be so nasty or I wouldn’t have come”.


Strangely enough, the rock is also irresistible to old spinster Miss McCraw who teaches mathematics at the college and lives in the “world of pure uncluttered reason”. At one moment she reads a treatise on mathematics and at another one she ascends the rock with no skirt and only in her “pantalons”. A knowledge of arithmetic does not help in the bush, observes one of the novel’s characters. McCraw’s “masculine intellect” could not protect her from the powers of emotions. “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” (Pascal).

The mystical union with the sacred can only occur when those called for such a union take off some of their clothes so the contact with the divine is unmediated by vestiges of civilisation. First, the girls take off their gloves, then their shoes and stockings which are the visible signs of their inhibitions. The most scandalous is that, when one of the girls is found after a week spent at the rock, she is without a corset.


Being unveils itself in its totality only to those willing to strip themselves of everyday habits and to take off the corset of civilisation that alienates them from nature.

From the very beginning, the matter of the girls’ disappearance has ecstatic and erotic overtones. The picnic takes place on St Valentine’s Day. The girls are excited because the excursion means for them an escape from the reglamented life and the “suffocating routine of the college”. Erotic tension abounds in the college. The girls are infatuated with each other and one of the teachers is also drawn into the world of homoerotic phantasy.

… for [the Mademoiselle] la petite Irma could do no wrong. The girl’s voluptuous little breasts, her dimples, full red lips, naughty black eyes and glossy black ringlets, were a continual source of aesthetic pleasure.

The girls are still virginal and innocent, which is emphasised by the whiteness of their dress, but their sexuality is about to be awaken. In the novel, Lindsey only hints at the girls’ budding sexuality while Weir shows the girls wandering among phallic boulders and vaginal caves.


Eros is shown as something alluring and mesmerising but also dangerous and threatening, with two girls and Miss McCraw remaining on the rock and never been found, presumably dead. It seems that Eros is close to Thanatos.

The girl who miraculously escaped death is no longer dressed in white but wears a red outfit when she appears in the college as a visitor. Her new dress suggests that she is a woman now. Her appearance triggers an outburst of teenage hysteria among the girls who want to know what happened on the rock.


And yet the rescued girl is unable to express what she experienced on the rock. Her experience transcends human understanding. The mysticism of love cannot be verbalised. It is part of ultimate reality which is hidden and can only be accessed outside of ordinary time and space, and where logic is suspended.

In the film, the sacralisation of love is the same as the sacralisation of nature. Weir states that “For me, the grand theme was Nature, and even the girls’ sexuality was as much a part of that as the lizard crawling across the top of the rock. They were part of the same whole”

The college is an outpost of British civilisation in an alien world of the antipodes. From the very beginnings, the colonists in Australia were aware that an enormous effort was required of them to domesticate this terra incognita.


Picnic at Hanging Rock is also the story of this struggle in an educational establishment for young colonial girls who are taught how to be British. And yet the college is already an anachronism in 1900. The Victorian era is about to end. The novel begins with the picnic on 14 February 1900 and ends with the death of the owner of the college, Mrs Appleyard, on 27 March 1900. The Australian colonies would become less British by forming a federation on 1 January 1901. Queen Victoria dies shortly after on 22 January 1901.


Mrs Appleyard epitomises Victorian virtues. She represents restraint, propriety, correct manners, self-reliance and unsentimental attitude towards the world. Her students are taught how to repress their feelings. She is a Victorian matron par excellence, meticulously dressed, and not unlike Queen Victoria herself. Like the queen, who lost her beloved husband Prince Consort Albert forty years before her own death, Mrs Appleyard is also in mourning for her late husband, Arthur.

…her high-piled greying pompadour and ample bosom, as rigidly controlled and disciplined as her private ambitions, the cameo portrait of her late husband flat on her respectable chest, the stately stranger looked precisely what the parents expected of an English Headmistress.


Mrs Appleyard’s role is to alienate her students from their natural inclinations. Her attitude to Nature is scientific. No contact with Nature is desirable unless it is mediated by scientific instruments. Nature in the college appears only as dead specimens of insects and plants in wooden cabinets.

She knew no more of nature than a scarecrow rigid on a broomstick above a field of waving corn. She who had lived so close to the little forest on the Bendigo Road had never felt the short wiry grass underfoot. Never walked between the straight shaggy stems of the stingybark trees. Never paused to savour the jubilant gusts of spring that carried the scent of wattle and eucalypt right into the front hall of the college.

Ironically, she walks on the grass after years of walking on asphalt, linoleum and carpets only in the moment before her death, when she throws herself into a precipice at Hanging Rock.

Even before her death, Mrs Appleyard was dead emotionally. She had failed to recognise that one cannot live by science alone. Both the novel and the film suggest that science kills what it examines. Conceptual knowledge of the world alienates us from the world’s true nature.


Picnic at Hanging Rock also deals with the problem of nascent nationalism in Australia. In 1900, Australia’s political character was about to change from being a collection of British colonies, separated by vast distances from each other, to an awkward entity which was the result of the fusion of Australian nationalism and British imperialism. Australia became a federation of British colonies within the British empire. This “fused identity between nation and Empire” (Paul Kelly) is represented in the novel and the film by the two main male characters – Michael, a recent immigrant from England, and Albert, a native-born coachman.


Initially, they are divided by their class, upbringing, garments, habits and language but they are gradually becoming mates to a degree verging on homoeroticism. Albert is a “currency lad”, a simple and decent young man whose character is as colorful as his language. Michael belongs to an ancient and illustrious family in Britain and therefore could be referred to as “sterling”. Michael is well-mannered and expresses himself in cultivated British English while Albert speaks with a broad Australian accent. He uses words such as “bloody” and phrases such as “can’t be more a midday”, “in donkey’s years”, “I’m buggered”, “what the hell for” and “you are a funny bugger”. Albert and Michael are becoming mates through a gradual process involving drinking wine from one battle, and Michael switching to vernacular expressions and dressing less formally.


The most dramatic change occurs at the Hanging Rock when Michael spends a night there in an attempt to find the lost girls and, in turn, has to be rescued by Albert. Michael undergoes the rite of passage at the rock. He becomes a true Australian mate by willing to risk his life to help others. He is initiated into the Australian nation in which nationality is an extension of mateship. Weir expressed the same idea in his later film Gallipoli which depicts a tragic campaign in the Dardanelles in 1915. The battle has since served as the foundation myth of Australia.

It may escape the viewer’s attention that Albert calls cooee when searching for Michael on the rock. The cry was once heard quite often in the bush. Geoffrey Blainey describes the cooee as “one of the first of the consciously nationalist calls […] perhaps the first national anthem”.


Picnic at Hanging Rock combines elements of mystery and history with metaphysical reflection. This is arguably the best Australian film, as interesting now as it was at the time of its creation.



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


(This is an  abridged fragment of Maria Rzepinska Siedem wiekow malarstwa europejskiego. The translation is mine).



Jean-Honore Fragonard The Swing 1767

In the eighteenth century, freethought and fashion for atheism in society led to the secularisation of painting. This does not mean that  religious art disappeared altogether. Churches and monasteries were still built and there was still a need for religious paintings and decorative art. But what is the most original and most creative in painting of the eighteenth century is of worldly nature. The spirit of sacred solemnity vanishes from religious paintings. Artists lose interest in ancient myths which had been the subject of art for centuries.


Jean Marc Nattier The Lovers 1744

Mythology became merely an aesthetic pretext. In comparison with the seventeenth century, the Rococo style of painting is less serious. It is also less inventive in terms of technique. Rococo is the last historical style, compact and uniform, covering all artistic disciplines, costume, life-style, and the arrangement of urban space. It did not last long and new trends emerged around 1760, stemming from a different aesthetic attitude, as well as from new social and moral tendencies. Some historians consider Rococo to be the last phase of Baroque but the former is different from the latter in many aspects, including asymmetry and caprice as aesthetic principles and a radical  change in the treatment of colour. Historians argue whether Rococo emerged in in France or Italy, with Borromini often being considered as the precursor of this new style. However, there is no doubt that interior decoration and Rococo painting are an expression of French culture, strictly speaking the culture of French aristocratic salons. Rococo is closely associated with the leisure class – a social class with a sophisticated and refined taste.  There is neither populism nor naivety in Rococo, whereas they often can be found in Baroque.



Antoine Watteau Pilgrimage to Cythera , 1718–1721


Rococo is the style of a social class at the top of its power.  Women played a particularly important role in the society of the eighteenth century. Painting, furniture and interior design are all feminine.  Rococo is the style of grace rather than strength and dignified gravity. It is significant that this epoch gave us more female than male portraits.





Francois Boucher Diana Leaving the Bath 1742


The time of artistic hegemony of Italy had passed. France dictated how people dressed and what they thought in Europe.  It is France that gave the world Watteau, Boucher, Chardin and Fragonard. The French language became the common language among educated classes. France is the home of Rococo, and there the feminine character of this style was particularly strong. In painting, colours became brighter while darker shades  disappeared. Tenebrism was rejected as unbecoming and old-fashioned; graceful demeanour, dance, flirt, carnival – everything that served hedonism – came to the forefront. Portraits of members of the court and the great allegorical paintings with courtly themes were still painted, but they were considered anachronistic.





Jean-Honore Fragonard The Stolen Kiss, late 1780s


The quarrel of Poussinists and Rubenists ended with the victory of the latter. French painters opted for continuing the tradition of the sensual, lush and colourful Flemish painting, re-interpreting it in an original way. What is most interesting in the painting of this time is the emphasis on the life of the rich and elegant groups of the French society who were shown as being more interested in charms and pleasures of existence than in wealth and social position. Changes in architecture influenced to a certain extent the style of painting which became more private, graceful, intimate, and devoid of rigid ceremonialism and pomposity. Small cozy interiors, charming salons and boudoirs dictated a particular range of themes, figures, and formats. In addition to oil painting, pastel drawing was also very popular. Artists used a range of pastels that were bright and chalky, with artwork often resembling oil painting. Baroque’s limited palette of chromatic pigments and a wide range of colours was replaced in Rococo by light, bright and cool colours, with a lot of white, pearly and pigeon shades, and a wide range of tones of blue, from azure to pervenche.




Jean François de Troy Declaration of Love 1731


New colours were used, including violet, peach and willow-green – sometimes bleachy and greyish, sometimes clean and cheerful, but almost always bright. A new form of painting emerged, namely paintings painted on canvas and fixed on the wall, shaped to fit the architectural space, often capricious and irregular, placed as overdoors or between the windows or mirrors.




Nicolas Lancret La Camargo Dancing, c. 1730


Painters often used the oval form for portraiture, which was not used before. The artists, even of the prominence of Boucher, were not averse to painting fans, crating designs for screens, furniture or upholstery. In the sixteenth century, painters show little interest in architecture or sculpture, preferring decorative and applied arts. The fashion for the Chinese art and culture, which was triggered by the interest in porcelain and lacquerware, found its fullest expression in applied art although it could also be found in some easel paintings. In Boucher’s paintings, for example, we can find Chinese motives such as local characters, clothes and pagodas, although they are often far from being realistic.


Francois Boucher Chinese Garden (detail) 1742

Theatre was particularly popular. All social groups enjoyed all kinds of performances including comic opera, ballet, farce, pantomime and vaudeville. In Paris, alongside the French comedy, the Italian comedy was also highly popular. The latter, banished during the reign of Louis XIV, reappeared in France  in 1716, during the period of Regence. The Italian commedia dell’arte served as a source of inspiration for some of the most interesting French paintings of the time. The return of the Italian actors to Paris rekindled the interest in the mystery and the beauty of masks and costumes, and the characters of the Harlequin, Mezzetino, Il Dottore and Colombina.  Important motifs were the traditional “four masks of Italian comedy” (described by Goldoni in his memoirs), as well as from the Venetian carnival.



Nicolas Lancret Actors of the Comedie-Italienne

The themes from the theatre and ballet often appear in the paintings of Gillot, Watteau and Lancret. These painters not only paint objects from theatrical performances in their physical form but they also treat masks, lipstick, wigs and various forms of disguise to convey meaningful subtexts which are not always cheerful. These objects changed the formula for painting the human figure which became dissociated from the ancient model.




Antoine Watteau Pierrot, 1718–1719



The landscape in Rococo paintings is theatrical, imaginary and tapestry-like rather than realistic. Nature in Rococo is pastoral and idyllic, and never harsh, menacing or mysterious. The emphasis is on what is carefree, erotic and playful in Nature, poetry and theatre. People were preoccupied with the quest for happiness. Hedonism and eroticism were among the dominant motifs of the eighteenth-century culture. The new sensitivity of artists was displayed in its clearest form in the paintings of Watteau who is a Rococo painter par excellence.




Antoine Watteau The Shepherds c.1717


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bandar Seri Begawan. A photographic essay


Brunei’a official ideology is that of the country being Melayu Islam Beraja (Malay, Islamic Monarchy). The capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan, seems to epitomise these characteristics. Brunei is an absolute monarchy. His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam is the head of state, prime minister, minister of defence, minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs and trade.


The sultan may say after the King Louis XIV “L’etat, c’est moi”, being accountable to no-one but God. There is no clear separation between his personal finances and those of the state. His personal wealth has been estimated at $20 billion. Brunei’s entire budget for the 2016-17 financial year is B$5.6 billion ($4.1 billion).

Falling revenue from oil and gas resulted in a deficit of B$2.5 billion in the first nine months of 2016-2017. Brunei is said to have oil and gas reserves for another 24 years. It’s a typical rentier state, relying on non-renewable resources and whose future is uncertain as government revenue is derived in 90 per cent from gas and oil exports. Brunei is still very rich, in fact, it is the world’s fourth richest country, at $79,508 GDP (purchasing power parity) per capita (International Monetary Fund, 2015). However, it will almost certainly become progressively poorer if no serious effort is made to diversify its economy. Brunei has close ties with Singapore – its currency is interchangeable with the Singaporean dollar – but it will not become another Singapore because of its cultural and political peculiarities.       

The sultan, who has reigned and ruled since 1967, urges his subjects to intensify their devotion to Islam as a solution to their country’s problems. Islam in South-East Asia is mixed with the local cultural customs (adat) but Brunei, in the pursuit of religious purity, seems to be on the path towards Arabisation. The country has a dual legal system, with the common law coexisting with the sharia law. The latter was introduced by the sultan in 2014. It remains to be seen how strict the application of the sharia law will be in practice.


Brunei’s puritanical tendencies are manifested in many aspects of the country’s social life (for example, compulsory attendance at Friday prayers at a mosque for Muslims, a ban on alcohol consumption or the use of the Arabic alphabet as the country’s official script). Linguistically, Brunei is Malay, English and Arabic.


The official name of the country is Negara Brunei Darussalam.  Darussalam which means “abode of peace” in Arabic, serves as a reminder that Brunei is part of ummah or the community of all Muslims. Implicitly, the appellation of Dar as-Salam suggests that non-Muslim countries belong to the Dar al-Harb ( the house of war) or the Dar al-Kufr (the realm of unbelievers). 




All these distinctions have no bearing on the attitude of Bruneians to tourists who feel safe and welcomed. The ban on alcohol makes Bandar Seri Begawan a quiet place indeed. The town seems to be quiet for other reasons, too.  Its centre is occupied by government buildings while people live in outer areas or in water villages on both sides of the Brunei River. The town itself has a population of around 50,000 of which 30,000 live in water villages.




Brunei is supposed to be fabulously rich but many people in Bandar Seri Begawan live in abject poverty, especially in river villages.





Infrastructure is underdeveloped. Public transport is almost non-existent while it is impossible to find a taxi. As in Indonesia and Malaysia, one has to walk carefully in order to avoid falling in a hole in a pavement or into open drains.   



When compared with other capital cities, the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan seems to be empty of people and cars. There are no traffic jams and very few pedestrians even in the very centre of the town.



A foreign visitor will leave Bandar Seri Begawan utterly confused. Brunei is one of the wealthiest countries on earth but a large proportion of indigenous inhabitants of its capital city, not to mention immigrant workers, live in poverty.


Bruneians are devout Muslims yet they are very friendly and accommodating towards visitors who do not share their faith or are indeed faithless. The country is both modern and conservative, Malay and Arab-like, with people devoted to religion but also to consumption, and ruled by a monarch who tells his subjects to be humble and yet he himself lives in the world’s largest residential palace.



A departing visitor will be reminded what country (s)he has just visited by seeing a luxury car in a glass box next to a mosque at the entrance to the airport.   


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why is the West ahead of Islam?

(this is an abridged version of an interview conducted by Beata Janowska with Professor Marek Gensler, of the University of Łódź (Poland). The interview was published in Gazeta Wyborcza on 21 March 2016. The translation and the choice of images are mine).


Henri Bechard Interior of the Amrou mosque ca 1870

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, a question arose in the Arab and Latin civilisations of what to do with philosophy. The response was different in each of these two civilisations. In your view, it was a key moment which paved the paths of the Muslim world and Europe. In the eleventh century, the Arabs were far superior to the Latins in their knowledge of philosophy.

Yes, the Arabs knew philosophy incomparably better than the Latins because they inherited ancient philosophy directly from the Greeks. When they conquered Egypt in the seventh century, the Mouseion in Alexandria was still a major intellectual institution of the ancient world. The legacy of Aristotle and Plato, or rather of the whole philosophical tradition, was very much alive in Alexandria at that time.

The Latins hardly knew Aristotle, because only a few of his minor texts were translated into Latin before the sixth century. Previously, there was no need for translations because everyone who dealt with philosophy knew the Greek language. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed, and the dark ages began between the sixth and tenth century, contacts with the Greek world had weakened. People no longer understood Greek and all the important texts were lost or were in Byzantium and therefore inaccessible. Nevertheless, Aristotle was still believed to be a great philosopher because he appears as such in the works of St. Augustine.

There were at that time important philosophical centres in Syria.

This is another story, they were created by refugees from Athens. In 529, the emperor Justinian ordered the closure of pagan schools, or more precisely, forbade non-Christians to teach in them. This resulted in the transfer of the Alexandrian school to Christians and that transfer occurred through an arrangement between Christians and pagans. In Athens, however, the philosophical school was closed because the Athenians did not want to negotiate with Christians and preferred to emigrate to Hellenised Syria which was then controlled by the Persians.

In Syria, they translated Neoplatonic texts first into Syriac and then, when the Arabs took over those lands, into Arabic. This work continued in Baghdad, the new capital of the Muslim empire, where a school was established at the court of the caliph. From the fifth to the eighth century, interesting things were done in philosophy in the Eastern Roman Empire, of which the Latins were not aware of because of their separation from Byzantium. In contrast, the Arab conquerors of the Roman provinces in the south and east of the Mediterranean showed great interest in the philosophical thought of the conquered population.

Did the Arabs learn Greek?

They employed Greeks and Syrians as translators. Syrians were often were bilingual and, as their Semitic language is close to the Arab language, it was not particularly difficult for them to translate philosophical texts into Arabic. Porphyry, the disciple of Plotinus, was a Syrian. There were schools established at the courts of Muslim rulers because the Arabs, unlike the Latins, believed that the monarch should be educated. The Arabs accepted the Greek ideal of an enlightened ruler. The sons of emirs and sultans had to learn philosophy, often from textbooks written specially for them.

In Islam, education was not associated with religion and science was secular in nature. Islam did not develop theology in the Western sense. When Muslim lawyers needed logic, they learned it from ancient thinkers, while doctors studied biology from the same source. However, most Muslims did not think that they could learn anything from pagans about God.

Why did philosophy and theology come close to each other in the West?

Unlike Islam and Judaism, Christianity treats its holy texts as dictated by the Holy Spirit to specific people at a specific time. That is why they have a supernatural element, but also human. The task of the theologian is to extract the revealed truth from a text written down by a human being. The holy text must be freed from the accretions of human origin, and expressed again to be understood by a new generation. St. Augustine said that no one understands fully the message of holy books. Acculturation of the holy texts is therefore necessary for every believer.


Tommaso da Modena Albertus Magnus 1352

Do you mean that one has to interpret Biblical texts anew in order to reconcile them with the level of knowledge and way of understanding of the world at a particular time?

Christians were aware of this from the very beginning. The first theological school was established in Alexandria by Clement at the beginning of the third century, when paganism still prevailed. Origen, who received solid philosophical and philological education at that school, distinguished three levels of interpretation of the revealed text. The first is the somatic or bodily level which involved a literal reading of the simple truths such as the Ten Commandments. The second level, which is psychic, refers to the soul. At this level, moral truths are dissected from the sacred texts for a particular time and place. For example, in the Old Testament, polygamy was allowed, and now it is not. Why? After all, it is not possible for God to change His commandments and indeed, He did not change them, only Man learned to read them differently. That’s what God allowed at the times of Abraham, it became unacceptable when mankind developed new sensitivities. People now understand that having four or five wives is a bad idea. It’s better to have one, lifelong companion. Moral progress affects the interpretation of the biblical texts whose meaning can be adapted to a particular period in the history of mankind.

The third and highest level of Origen’s scheme is called pneumatic as it involves the spirit (Gr. pneuma) and not the soul. At this level, the Bible is being interpreted allegorically to gain knowledge of Man as a creature of God and of God himself. This is the theology in the strict sense i.e. the speculative theology. This is what Christianity managed to gain through philosophy. Without philosophical conceptualisation, we would be doomed to a literal reading of the Bible.

As it is in Islam and Judaism?

In Islam and Judaism, the sacred text is treated as revealed in full, without the human element. In the Torah, which contains the Mosaic laws, there are rules governing nearly all aspects of life and there is not much room for speculation, though Judaism is still much more open than Islam. On the other hand, the Arabs believed that as long as religion does not intersect with science, everything is fine. Religious Islamic law is disconnected from ethics. Metaphysics is also absent. Muslims rejected it as a tool to know God, because there is no place in Islam for a discussion about God as the first cause.

Initially, Muslims showed great enthusiasm for philosophy and there was even a kind of speculative Muslim theology developed by scholars of the Koran, Mutazilites, but later philosophy was considered as unhelpful in spiritual development. Muslims began to wonder whether the extraction of pure knowledge from the Qur’an about God and creation is indeed necessary and whether it leads to salvation. Maybe this is an expression of arrogance of reason which leads people astray? Christians in the West also have such doubts. The eleventh century is a time of great dispute about the value of philosophy, both among Christians and Muslims.

These concerns are best expressed by St. Peter Damian (1007-1072) and Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (1058-1111). 

Damian, a Benedictine monk, came to the conclusion that the development of philosophy went too far. Young and ambitious monks had the audacity to discuss issues such as, What it means that God is omnipotent. Is He omnipotent in such a way that even the principle of contradiction does not apply to Him? Damian was irritated by such deliberations because, being well educated, he sensed that the philosophy began to drift dangerously, freeing itself from theology, and soon it could happen that the philosophy would begin to dictate the terms to theology.

Did Damian believe that the teaching of philosophy should be forbidden?

He wanted to see theology above philosophy. This order was determined by the Augustinian concept of goods, according to which the knowledge of God is the supreme good, so that what serves this aim is also good, including philosophy. However, when philosophy ceases to be a means to this end, and sets itself other goals, it becomes evil because it distracts man from God. Damian worried that philosophy began to separate itself from theology as an autonomous discipline and to impose scientific requirements on theology. He wanted philosophy to be ancilla theologiae, a servant of theology. If philosophy does not want to play this role, it should be discarded.

Al-Ghazali rejected philosophy for slightly different reasons.

Both Damian and Al-Ghazali were scholars and long-time teachers of philosophy. Al-Ghazali studied, commented and taught philosophy until he had a kind of mystical vision that changed his life. He gave up teaching, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and travelled a lot. He abandoned teaching to venture on the mystical search for God. In his famous work The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he criticised the philosophical approach to God as erroneous and of little value. He did not say that philosophy is bad but that it is inferior to mysticism. Such views were voiced in Islam before, however, it was Al-Ghazali who triggered the loss of interest in philosophy among Muslims who gradually abandoned speculative theology which anyway was in an early stage of development. Interestingly, Al-Ghazali also distrusted the systematic study of Qu’ranic law and the emphasis on orthodoxy by its guardians. He maintained that Sufis, or mystics, are closer to God.


Jean-Leon Gerome Prayer in Cairo 1865 

Did Al-Ghazali recommend the abandonment of philosophy for religion?

In the eleventh century, Islamic mysticism went beyond its religious frame, with eminent Sufis suggesting that God is too great to be constrained within one religion. In all religions, mystics are censored because of individualism in their approach to faith. Nowadays, Islamic fundamentalists blow up the tombs of famous Sufis because individualism makes Sufism heretical. Christianity experienced similar problems, as mysticism often leads to heresy.

In the eleventh century, philosophy and science were synonymous. For as much as one could grasp a thing scientifically, one could only describe it in the concepts of philosophy. Even medicine was in fact the practical use of natural philosophy. The emancipation of science occurred in later centuries. A major step on this road was the appearance of universities in Europe in the thirteenth century, with the autonomy of studies and research in various departments. At the faculty of liberal arts, people were free to philosophise in a secular context; they were even forbidden to deal with religious issues. They were only bound by the principles of correct reasoning and by the correspondence between thought and reality. Interestingly, students at the faculty of theology engaged in thought experiments by using the procedures of so-called secundum imaginationem, which are exercises to imagine an entirely hypothetical situation such as, for example, God commanding us to hate Him. This idea was later developed by philosophers and eventually incorporated into the study of nature as an idealisation, that is the representation of a hypothetical state of nature stripped of certain elements which are non-essential from the point of view of the hypothesis under investigation.

For the development of science, it is important to develop complicated theories and to define concepts. Without philosophy and theology, there might not be such giants of science as Newton and Leibniz.

That’s right. Theology was a discipline for pioneering a new type of scientific hypotheses, which were later tested empirically. In science, verification was carried out by experiment, while in theology it was affected by reference to the tradition of religious dogma and the examination whether new theses are consistent with it, or lead to contradictions.


Laurentius de Voltolina

If the West rejected philosophy at that time, would science also be rejected? Was it a decisive point in the fate of Western civilisation?

Yes indeed, although it is difficult for us to accept that this is the case because for the past three centuries we got accustomed to the idea that science is the avant-garde of knowledge and theology is of little consequence. But in the Middle Ages, science found protection under the wings of theology. Regrettably, people now see the the Middle Ages in pejorative terms. Reputation of the Middle Ages suffered greatly during the Enlightenment. Most people nowadays cherish the Renaissance which supposed to be a period of the restoration of antique tradition. In fact, modern science is the legacy of antiquity and the Middle Ages, in which the achievements of antiquity were enriched and developed further.

Mystical knowledge also involves intellect which is however engaged in contemplation rather than speculation. Mystical experience cannot be shared with others. Unlike philosophy, mysticism cannot be taught. Mystical knowledge does not require a conceptual apparatus because the mystical union is inexpressible.

In the West, the position of philosophy was defended by St. Anselm (1033-1109), the archbishop of Canterbury.

The authority of Anselm was instrumental in the continued duration of philosophy as an inalienable component of education. He strongly supported the autonomy of philosophy. Justifiably, Anselm is called the father of scholasticism. He claimed that philosophy is absolutely necessary as an element of education and without education one cannot acquire the knowledge of God.


Ludwig Deutsch The Scribe 1911

In the Arab world, science was defended by Averroes (1126-1198).

Averroes was aware of the damage caused to philosophy by Al-Ghazali, and in response to it he wrote The Incoherence of the Incoherence in which he provided arguments against mysticism. According to Averroes, philosophy it is the highest form of theology because only philosophy uses abstract terms, being the subtlest and most sophisticated of all possible forms of expressions as the language of the abstract. Philosophy is capable of expressing matters concerning God as the supreme cause in the fullest and most precise way. Averroes did not differ in that from Aristotle who argued that philosophy leads to the knowledge of God as the first mover. By knowing the causes of things we attain perfect knowledge.

But he failed.

Averroes could play the same role in Islam as Anselm did in Christianity but he had insufficient authority as a religious thinker. He was a kadim, or Islamic judge, a person of great importance but not important enough to save philosophy. He was accused of the lack of piety, because he claimed that philosophy, not religion, is the surest path towards God. As a result, he had to flee from his native Cordoba to Africa. Averroes was treated as a heretic. After him, the authority of philosophy crumbled to dust and even his pupil Ibn Arabi abandoned philosophy for mysticism. Averroes is the last great scholar and philosopher of the Arab world.

In the East, there were no universities in the Western sense because there was no room for autonomous faculties. The University in Cairo, founded in the tenth century, is only a religious school. Over the following centuries, only remnants of philosophy needed by medics and lawyers were preserved in Islam. It is a sad paradox that, when in the twelfth century the Latins literally rushed to the Arab philosophy, and the great Arab scholars were read with admiration in Europe, the thinkers of the Muslim world already switched to mysticism. When universities flourished in Western Europe and became institutions of higher learning in the full sense of the word, science almost completely froze in the Arab world.

We can say that in the relay race of human progress, the baton was taken by another player at the very last moment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, God, Islam, philosophy, religion, Uncategorized

Polish graphic design. 30 posters


Tadeusz Trepkowski


Eryk H Lipinski


Henryk Tomaszewski


Józef Mroszczak


Julian Pałka


Jan Lenica


Witold Janowski


Wiesław Wałkuski


Roman Cieślewicz


Franciszek Starowieyski


Lech Majewski


Jerzy Czerniawski


Wiktor Gorka


Waldemar Świerzy


Jan Mlodozeniec


Wojciech Zamecznik


Wojciech Fangor


Stasys Eidrigevicius


Marian Stachurski


Rosław Szaybo


Leszek Zebrowski


Maciej Hibner


Tadeusz Jodłowski


Jerzy Treutler


Maciej Urbaniec


Mieczyslaw Gorowski


Mieczyslaw Wasilewski


Lex Drewinski


Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz


Bolesław Polnar


Filed under Uncategorized

Jacob Boehme

(This is a fragment of Jacek Woźniakowski Góry niewzruszone. The translation is mine).




In 1613, the mayor of the Silesian town of Gorlitz wrote as follows: On 26 July Jacob Boehme, the shoemaker living between the gates behind the hospital smithy, was summoned to the City Hall to be punished and investigated for his enthusiastic faith (um seinen enthusiastischen glauben gefragt), then he was shackled in the stocks, and ushers took from his home a book written by him in quarto after which he was released from prison and admonished to give up such things”.
He, however, did not abandon anything despite pressure from many sides; in the years 1612-1623, he wrote three and a half thousand pages of strange thoughts that were to made powerful impression on the European culture in the following centuries.
Boehme was two years older than Rubens and four years younger than Kepler. He wrote his meditations at the same time when the works of Bacon and Shakespeare were being printed, when Rembrandt, Corneille and Milton were entering adulthood. He lived to see only one of his books published, and only anonymously (Der Weg zu Christo), but his manuscripts spread like fire in countless copies: already in 1621 he was read in the whole of Silesia and Saxony, and the March of Meissen. Silesian nobles were particularly attached to his thought and spread it long after the death of the master. Saint-Martin (1743-1803) translated Boehme into French, learning German for this purpose. Mickiewicz translate Boehme into Polish, and also  wrote an essay about him. There are several books about the impact of Boehme on English literature and about his English followers, of whom the most important, and perhaps the least orthodox, was William Blake; one of the most fascinating romantic landscape painters, Samuel Palmer, probably learned about Boehme from Blake. Later, Shaftesbury’s thought was also developed within the circle of Behmenists.
Coming from Evening Church 1830 by Samuel Palmer 1805-1881
Samuel Palmer Coming from Evening Church 1830
The literature on the role of Boehme in German culture is, of course, especially abundant. When he was still alive, he was called Philosophus Teutonicus: and he was very proud of that. Friedrich Schlegel put him on a par with Shakespeare and Durer. Schelling considered him to be a miraculous phenomenon in the history of mankind. Today, the thought of Boehme is believed to be the root of all the major theosophical systems of the eighteenth century and also of all contemporary sects of this kind. The impact of Boehme, sometimes decisive, on Tieck, Runge (who initiated the romantic philosophy of landscape painting), Novalis, Fichte, Hegel, Schopenhauer are widely discussed, but even completely different type of thinker, Feuerbach, owes Boehme a lot. Russian philosopher Berdyaev wrote about Boehme as “without a doubt one of the biggest Christian gnostic”, and stressed the importance of Boehme as almost the “Father of the Church” in old Russia. Herzen was also enthusiastic about Boehme. According to Berdyaev, Boehme enabled the victory over the rationalism of Leibniz and Spinoza) and as the first reached to the Bible to see the life of cosmos as a passionate struggle, as a movement, as a process, as incessant Genesis. Lucien Febvre says that in the brain of Boehme “ferment probably one of the most powerful metaphysical geniuses of humanity” and another eminent historian of ideas, Koyre, devoted a large monograph to Boehme.  It is worth to add that in the United States it exists today (or at least existed in 1960 ) the Jacob Boehme Society.
Boehme experienced a spiritual shock when reading Copernicus: it was an intense feeling of infinity of space. Copernicus expanded space by moving the sphere of the fixed stars into a celestial abyss. Where is God in this case, where is the real heaven? – asks Boehme. It is necessary to either reject the theory of Copernicus, or push back the sky and God into infinite depths, or negate the existence of God. Boehme confesses that he experienced “pagan hours” when he understood that, after Copernicus, it was impossible to keep the old idea of “heaven above the stars.” And then – probably under the influence of Sebastian Franck and Paracelsus – he was dazzled by a thought that infinite space – Abgrund, Tiefe, Chaos, Unendlichkeit, Mysterium Magnum – this was God (Gott ist das Ganze alleine and die grosse Tiefe überall). Such was the foundation of his thought, expressed in nebulous and vague language, extremely complicated, and with ambition to explain the world and the after-world, even if explaining the unknowns by other unknowns which is typical for theosophists; in fact there are no unknowns: those who are initiated simply know it all. Nevertheless, a powerful poetic vision of the cosmos shines behind Boehme’s strange meanderings of language and thought. A stormy exposure of arguments by the shoemaker from Gorlitz moves forward with enormous force. Let’s try – at the expense of inevitable simplification – to elucidate some of the elements of this vision.
William Blake
The Abyss is an “eternal peace without beginning and end.” It is the matrix of everything that exists, but undisclosed, unfathomable, unknowable and perhaps in-knowing (reminding us of complicatio of Nicholas of Cusa). Thought can only grasp something while the divine abyss is above and beyond anything that is particular and definable. But the abyss does not want to be in the state of nothingness. God, to be revealed, needs Nature. He is in fact for Nature what the central point is for the circle: to be the centre, the point needs a circuit. Revelation is therefore primarily an act of the abyss seeing itself in a mirror, that is, splitting itself in the act of creative love; the Son is love while the Spirit is behind the power of the act of creation; this Trinity is the basic form of the divine dynamics and consciousness. The Trinity manifests itself initially in the first stage of creation, which Boehme calls die ewige Natur. Eternal Nature is purely spiritual and coeternal with God, but we can not comprehend this, because we always think in terms that are temporal.
God, having revealed Himself in Eternal Nature, wants the full realisation of everything that already exists potentially in the divine unity. Here we encounter an important, quasi-Augustinian place in the doctrine of the Silesian theologian. The pure  revelation of the Abyss is impossible without further fissions (“separations”), without the play of the opposites. God is for Boehme love itself, eternal Nature is also good, the opposites somehow contain one another, the light is hidden in the darkness: Die Lichtwelt ist in den finstern verborgen, auch die finstere Welt in der Lichtwelt. “if there were no death, there would be no life, if there were no darkness, there would be no light.” Darkness is not bad in itself, but in the extent to which it separates itself from light (here there is an echo of Manichaeism of Gnostics): all that is good, comes from light, everything that is evil comes from darkness that separated itself from light.
This way, God separated Himself from Lucifer. Eternal Nature became black and empty. “If all the trees were writers, and all the twigs were feathers, and all the mountains were books and all the water was ink, even then they would not be able to describe all the pain and despair, which caused Lucifer and his angels … “
But God created the world in order to fix what was broken, and restore the meaning and harmony where there was the disharmony of the opposites, to reveal His own presence in the world, like the soul of the body, like the juice in the tree. God also sent his Son, the Prince of Light, so light cold win where it fought against darkness in the “wild nature”. It is so because “God is everything – darkness and light, love and anger … He is called the one God because of the light of His love.” Christians should ponder upon the life of Christ and thus guide their souls from darkness into light.
Nature, the whole nature is therefore the last degree of Revelation, as the only true teacher of philosophy, astrology, theology, as the figure and signature of God: “When you see the space and the stars, and the earth, you see your God, and in this God you live and exist … otherwise you’d be nothing … “
In De Signatura Rerum, Boehme expresses his vision of Nature as Revelation with particular force. In this speculative treatise  on astronomy, intricate and full of repetitions, the Silesian Theosophist seeks relations of everything with everything, like Paracelsus did before him. In this oeuvre, there are moments of admiration for created things so intense that perhaps only in Shaftesbury – despite the differences in style – we hear a similar tone.
Creation is for Creator a statement and a sign. Das Ausgesprochene ist ein Modell des Sprechenden und hat wieder das Sprechen in sich, dasselbe Sprechen ist ein Saame zu einer andern Bildnis nach der ersten: denn beide wirken, als das Sprechende und das Ausgesprochene. Each object reveals his internal and spiritual properties.  Boehme puts it in an aphorism of great poetical power, Das Innerliche arbeitet stets zur Offenbarung. Thus also Creator revealed Himself in multiple forms. We can rocognise the divine in the stars and natural phenomena, in trees and herbs. Everything tells us about the spiritual hierarchy of existence, from herbs and trees to God. Everything tells us of its own voice: Ein jedes Ding hat seinen Mund zur Offenbarung. This terse sentence containes in nuce the whole philosophy of nature of Romanticism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, philosophy, religion, Uncategorized


Sebastian Münster Cosmographia 1544
Science plays a central role in modern societies but science is not what most people believe it to be. Methodological foundations of science are nowadays unstable and scientists themselves are uncertain what these foundations are, if there are any.  The matter is important because, as Russian philosopher Lev Shestov says, “the theory of knowledge is not at all an abstract, harmless reflection on the methods of our thought; it determines in advance the sources whence our knowledge flows.” One may say that ontology is dependent on epistemology and not the other way around.
The ancient Greeks distinguished between episteme (knowledge) and doxa (opinion) and were only interested in what could be known for certain. They were cognitive maximalists. Only episteme mattered while doxa was considered unworthy of attention of a rational being. A gentleman would not lower himself to thinking about ordinary matters which was the domain of the slaves. As a slave society, the Greeks held manual work  in contempt while contemplation was considered the highest form of activity. Only slaves had closer contact with matter. As the Greeks believed that Logos (Reason) permeated that part of reality that really mattered, they thought that rational thinking was the key to understanding the world. Therefore, techne (craft) was for them inferior to episteme.
Moreover, as Alexandre Koyre explains, the Greeks thought that terrestrial, or sublunary, world was very different from the supralunar sphere.  The former was the domain of corruption and change while the latter was governed by the laws of mathematics. As the Greeks believed that mathematics could not be used to describe the world of earthly matters,  they were unable to develop techne into applied science. They were quite advanced in the mathematisation of astronomy but would consider the mathematisation of physics an absurd proposition because the sublunary world was imperfect, impure and changeable.
Theirs was a static society with no hope for progress. Aristotle was engaged in some rudimentary observation of physical objects while Plato devoted himself entirely to pure speculation. This frame of mind operated as a straitjacket on the Greek spirit.
Christianity continued the Greek philosophers’ disdain for earthly existence. Philosophically speaking, it was initially a form of Neoplatonism whose orientation was highly speculative. A significant change occurred in the thirteenth century when St Tomas Acquinas christianised Aristotle. Science, however, could not progress neither under Neoplatonists nor Aristotelians. The latter developed slavish devotion to Aristotle. His texts were considered more important than observation and supposedly contained all there was to know.  There was no place for change in the Middle Ages.  The medieval man looked towards the past and cherished permanence and immutability.
Only medieval technology made significant progress. As a religion open to slaves, Christianity gave recognition to manual work. The first centuries of Christianity were marked by the oriental form of worship involving asceticism and eremitic forms of monasticism. Eremitism was later replaced by cenobitism with monks not only praying but also working (ora et labora). Homo faber is a medieval creation and monks can be seen as the first empiricists. Gothic cathedrals are a testimony to an intense engagement with the physical world in medieval times, albeit only among monks, craftsmen and artisans.
The modern world started with theoreticians like Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes and practitioners like Galileo. They created the model of science that lasted for three centuries, reaching its apogee in the second half of the nineteenth century and starting to crumble in the 1930s.
Rembrandt The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp 1632
A revolutionary change occurred when Galileo concluded that celestial bodies were also subject to change, limitations and imperfections. The discoveries of mountains on the Moon and the moons of Jupiter shattered the medieval worldview which was already crumbling following Copernicus’ calculations suggesting that the earth was moving around the sun. For Galileo, celestial bodies were but physical objects subject to the same laws as objects on Earth. Universal laws governed both the subblunary and celestial worlds. The sharp distinction between episteme and doxa thus disappeared.
Descartes provided theoretical basis for the mathematisation of physics and Galileo applied Descartes’ new method in his scientific experiments. He wrote in 1623 that “this grand book, which stands continually open before our eyes (I say the ‘Universe’), […] is written in mathematical language, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures”.

Galileo treated change as orderly and discrete therefore he needed exact calculations which could only be obtained by using precise measuring instruments. Senses were replaced by instruments in the observation of Nature. Until Galileo, people lived among objects that were apprehended by the five senses. Renaissance science introduced objects which could only be apprehended indirectly through instruments. Ordinary people still lived among objects that could be seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted. Scientists however dismissed evidence coming from the senses as unreliable and focused on the objects that could only be observed via instruments. Visible objects moving in physical space were replaced by abstract objects moving in geometric space. Real existence of such objects was verified by theories, not senses; the status of these objects is even today questionable to some.

Theory replaced the everyday experience and common sense was no longer an arbiter of what was true and false. It was quite a challenge for people to accept that the Earth was moving around the Sun at an enormous speed without terrible wind pushing  objects off the surface of the earth. It was also puzzling that objects thrown into the air fell on the same spot from which they were thrown. Common sense dictated that the Copernican model was absurd but science won the argument by appealing to the verdict of Reason emancipated from the yoke of ancient wisdom and metaphysics, but also from everyday experience.
It seemed that the marriage of Bacon’s empiricism and Descartes’ rationalism, or induction with deduction, was a perfect match that put the humanity on the path to knowledge that was certain and final – true everywhere and for all times. The Enlightenment strengthened that conviction and led to belief that all the fundamental questions raised by man will be eventually answered by science. Boundless confidence in science was quite common among the educated members of the society.
This model of science existed for three centuries. At its apogee in the second half of the nineteenth century, it usurped the right to all-encompassing knowledge of all human matters. Scientism penetrated into the areas that could not and should not be mathematised like psychology, sociology, anthropology and history which deal with human behaviour.
 Joseph Wright of Derby An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump 1768
A reaction to scientism found its best expression in the thought of Wilhelm Dilthey who proposed to distinguish between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften whose aims and methods were different – explaining and understanding, respectively. The neoromantic criticism of science was based on the conviction that science was inimical to values, and alienating man from the world. Artists were natural enemies of science and literature abounds in expressions of hostility to science. Tolstoy writes in The Death of Ivan Illich that
The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter’s Logic: “Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal,” had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius – man in the abstract – was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others. He had been little Vanya, with a mamma and a papa, with Mitya and Volodya, with the toys, a coachman and a nurse, afterwards with Katenka and will all the joys, griefs, and delights of childhood, boyhood, and youth. What did Caius know of the smell of that striped leather ball Vanya had been so fond of?… “Caius really was mortal, and it was right for him to die; but for me, little Vanya, Ivan Ilych, with all my thoughts and emotions, it’s altogether a different matter. It cannot be that I ought to die. That would be too terrible.”
Dostoevsky is even more direct in his attack on science and its dehumanising effect in Notes from Underground
Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all her conclusions.
Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four?
… But yet mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.
… Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice two makes four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up.
These attacks were from outside of science and had little impact on it. A more powerful blow came from philosophers of science who questioned its methods and foundations.  The last valiant attempt to put science on firm ground was made by Husserl who wanted to give science absolute certainty. “What is true is true absolutely, in itself; the truth is one, identical with itself, whatever may be the beings who perceive it – men, monsters, angels or gods”, he writes in Logische Untersuchungen.
His uncompromising maximalism could not be defended when there was growing evidence of science being a historical phenomenon. Thomas Kuhn destroyed the myth of science as a process of accumulative growth of knowledge which is expanding by adding one discovery to another. He showed convincingly that there was no steady progress in science which in fact changes through one paradigm replacing another. Karl Popper replaced verification with falsification, claiming that knowledge is always of provisional nature.  Paul Feyerabend rejected all forms of authority, including the authority of reason and denigrated science as base and of little consequence.
The history of science is no longer perceived as linear and rational. Scientific criteria change through the change in paradigms, and scientists have difficulties with deciding what is scientific and non-scientific and what is rational and irrational. The boundaries of science are now porous. No-one believes anymore in trans-historical existence of the scientific method.
Polish philosopher Stefan Amsterdamski writes that for three centuries
… science has been treated as the embodiment of human rationality. It was seen as a feature specific to our culture, and its development was represented as the result of a systematic application of the rational method of investigation […] unlike the scientists and philosophers of a century ago, we no longer possess the conviction that scientific knowledge can be fully objective, as an  unmediated product of an autonomous knowing subject, and that its history is simply the history of Reason.
The ship of science has entered unchartered waters and there is no land in sight.
(based on Stefan Amsterdamski Między historią a metodą and Jozef Zycinski Język i metoda  )

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized