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DARWIN, WITTGENSTEIN & DUCHAMP + JAQUES + INQUEST + QUIETUS + GLOSSARY + CONTACT
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Charles Darwin: the biological
Darwin’s consistent methodIt is helpful to look to Charles Darwin’s philosophic method to appreciate better Marcel Duchamp’s accomplishment, and then to relate their philosophic achievements to the even greater one of Shakespeare. Since Darwin’s time, much has been discovered or revealed about the body/mind relationship through advances in science. No scientist, though, has presented empirical findings with the logical consistency of Darwin. No contributor to the understanding of the biological processes, and their relevance for an understanding of the mind, has exhibited a similar philosophic consistency and adherence to the evidence.
Darwin’s evolutionary understanding establishes the logical relationship between the body and the mind or, in Wittgensteinian terms, between the world and language. Darwin’s mind was free enough from personal and public prejudices and agendas to represent the relationship between the body and the mind with consistency.
Despite the completely different nature of their achievements, Darwin and Duchamp had similar temperaments. Duchamp’s freedom from traditional prejudices ensured an appreciation of aesthetics that was logically sound. Their common ability to work without apologetic psychology can be combined with Wittgenstein’s desire to understand the logic of human language to provide an insight into Shakespeare’s achievement.
MisunderstandingsSince Darwin’s day most contributors to the evolutionary literature have had difficulty disentangling their psychological expectations from the requirements of a consistent philosophic agenda based in nature. For instance, the atheist philosopher Anthony Flew wrongly criticised Darwin for championing an ‘evolutionary ethics’, in which the need for a species to evolve is seen as the highest ‘good’. In his Evolutionary Ethics, Flew seems determined to discredit the influence of evolution on both physiological and psychological dispositions (including ethics) by demonstrating the inadequacy of evolution as the highest good. Yet Darwin never argued for a preferential course for evolution. Significantly, Flew resorted to the writings of others such as T. H. Huxley to make his case against Darwin. He ignores the clear evidence in Darwin’s work for the logical relation between the body and the mind developed over evolutionary time.
Stephen Jay Gould, in his writings on evolutionary cycles, revived the nineteenth century debate over uniformitarianism and catastrophism. In his determined advocacy of catastrophism, based on such events as comet strikes, he seems to ignore the gradual process of re-speciation required to recover from such catastrophes. Instead Gould moves without demur from advocating the punctuated evolution of the catastrophic model to characterise the development of organic life from over billions of years as the perpetual age of bacteria. (99)
Gould’s idealist agenda, which prioritises catastrophic events over the step-by-step process of gradual development, leads to inconsistent claims. His penchant for adversarial advocacy is in contrast to Darwin’s philosophic exactness, adherence to the evidence, and, at worst, cautious speculation. Daniel Dennett, in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, characterises evolution as algorithmic. He attributes to Darwin his own expectation that all designs in the biosphere could be products of such an algorithmic process. (100) Because the algorithmic process can seem ‘automatic’ or ‘mindless’ Dennett suggests the origin of life arose from just such a ‘mindless’ state. He reasons that,
Artificial Intelligence says you are composed of automata because Darwinism says you are descended from automata. (101)If automata preceded ‘life’, then according to Dennett,
Whereas animals are rigidly controlled by their biology, human behaviour is largely determined by culture, a largely autonomous system of symbols and values, growing from a biological base, but growing indefinitely away from it. Able to overpower or escape biological constraints.... (102)Hence, he argues, a completely independent artificially intelligent being is feasible. Dennett as a supposed defender of Darwin uses a formal process based on algorithms to characterise the emergence of organic life as a sudden transformation from a mechanistic universe. He needs to postulate a mechanistic universe to reconcile the evolution of human understanding with his personal disposition toward the ultimate autonomy of artificial intelligence. Such counterintuitive and demonstrably illogical claims are typical of the distortions to which Darwin’s philosophic rigour and reliance on evidence have been subjected.
It is not the purpose here to present the many misreadings of Darwin’s work. Robert J. Richards examines the various agendas and argues forcefully that the clear and simple presentation of the basic issues by Darwin in the Origin of Species and has been patently ignored. (103)
Evolution and the sexualIn the Origin of Species Darwin presents a compelling case for the natural process of evolution. He argues that all organic beings are descended from progenitors dating back millions rather than thousands of years and that they have varied significantly from those progenitors through a gradual process of biological change. One of the mechanisms that enables such changes to occur is the process of natural selection.
Though more has been revealed about the mechanisms of evolution since Darwin’s time, the one fact that was evident then, and is a constant for sexual organisms, is the requirement for increase through the sexual dynamic. Every genetically unique individual is the consequence of the sexual dynamic. Every such individual is at the head of an unbroken line of cell division that necessarily extends back millions or billions of years. While food or other sustenance is essential for the life-span survival of an individual or social group it is the sexual dynamic that ensures the survival of the species into the next generation. Logically no amount of food or other sustenance can substitute for the sexual connection (see sonnet 11).
For the human being, evolution and the sexual dynamic are inseparable. The dynamic cannot be circumvented through technological advance. Because organic and inorganic life is a continuum, for a living human being to be artificially reproduced the whole of the universe would have to be recreated. It is not possible to isolate an individual from its connection to the universe without, as in the Merchant of Venice, spilling a ‘jot’ of genealogical blood in the process.
The arguments and evidence of Darwin’s Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex demonstrate the priority of the sexual as the crucial condition for human continuation. This is borne out in the organisation of the Descent of Man where Parts 2 and 3, or two thirds of its volume, are devoted to ‘Sexual Selection’. Sexual selection is the mechanism for evolution allied to natural selection. Darwin examines the sexual and the erotic (what he calls secondary sexual characteristics) in various sexual species and considers their implications for human life. It is instructive that Darwin should devote a significant portion of his Descent of Man to sexual selection rather than some other requirement for human survival such as food or shelter.
Mental powers and moral sensePart 1 of the Descent of Man was written in response to challenges made after the publication of the Origin of Species. Critics doubted that the process of evolution could account for the intellectual and moral faculties in humankind. In the Descent of Man Darwin argues that, just as physical characteristics are derived from progenitors, the attributes of the human mind can be accounted for by examining their rudimentary or less sophisticated form in other species. In the chapters on the ‘mental powers’ and the ‘moral sense’ he argues for the continuity of development of those faculties over evolutionary time.
In Part 1, Darwin was not arguing for what has become known as ‘evolutionary ethics’. ‘Evolutionary ethics’ has been defined as ‘a general theory that we value things and persons in accordance with their capacity to sustain and maintain survival in evolutionary terms’. (104) The definition suggests there is an inherent or necessary good in acting for the survival of the species above all else or that there is something in our genetic makeup that unequivocally conditions such a possibility.
But Darwin’s text reveals no more than the clarification of the correct relationship between the physical attributes and the mental attributes of being. The requirement to survive is not an imperative as a species may well decide to become extinct voluntarily, or may do so accidentally. If an individual or a group wishes to survive beyond the current generation, then the sexual dynamic is the gateway for that possibility.
A mythology that proscribes sexual persistence cannot be taken literally. This is the case with idealistic belief systems such as Christianity. The Christian eschatological promise offers freedom from the natural processes of birth and death. Yet, inconsistently, Christianity is dogmatic in promoting the values of family life based in the sexual dynamic. The belief in the eschatological promise of a sexless life in heaven would have negative consequences for the continuity of human life on the planet if it were practised universally.
Darwin the philosopherDarwin’s analysis of the relation of the body and the mind is deeply philosophic. It is not prejudiced by traditional psychological expectations. His philosophic sensibility is evident in the logical organisation of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. After examining the derivation of mental powers and moral sense in Part 1, he examines the descent of ‘man’ as a sexual species and the function of secondary sexual characteristics (or the erotic) in Part 2.
Because Darwin remained relatively untutored in the philosophical sophistications of ethics and aesthetics, some of his comments lack the consistency of his insights into the evolutionary process. He expressed his deference toward Kant in some matters of philosophy. He used the word aesthetic in the reformulated sense discussed above, and bowed to Kant’s thoughts on duty. (105)
Contrary to Kant, though, he had no doubt that the mind is logically derived through evolutionary processes from less developed species. In his discussion of mental powers and moral sense he uses evolutionary processes as a necessary given to present a logical picture of the mind. His criticisms of John Stuart Mill, (106) for instance, though not elaborate, are telling in their identification of the essence of the error addressed.
Darwin’s philosophic method gives his work its enduring appeal. Not only did he treat the various points of argument with a philosophic rigour, the whole of his argument, beginning with the Origin of Species, was organised in a philosophic pattern to ensure its logical impact.
He based his argument on the principles of vera causa in which he presented evidence from known instances that were then generalised to explain events where direct evidence was not available. His rigorous approach to evidence gives the Origin a feeling of inevitability lacking in previous tomes that called on divine or other inexplicable causes. It should not surprise, then, that the structure of The Descent of Man replicates the relationship of the body to the mind.
Darwin argues that the processes of life and their evolution over time have the necessary multiplicity to account for the full range of mental and moral faculties of humankind. Darwin’s logical clarity contrasts with Wittgenstein’s denial that mental and moral dispositions had a natural explanation. The inability of Wittgenstein to appreciate the influence of physiological factors on the philosophic, yet his readiness to use biological metaphors to suggest multiplicity, show that his philosophical difficulties arose from the residual psychological expectations of the traditional paradigm.
The priority of the femaleAnother consequence of the reorientation of understanding along evolutionary principles is the recovery of the biological priority of the human female over the human male. Although the possibility of sexual differentiation implies a synchronised origin of female and male, the female retains the greater number of the characteristics from an asexual progenitor. The relation of x-x chromosomes in the human female to x-y chromosomes in the male, the inheritable elements in the larger cytoplasm of the female gametes, the requirement that the male return to the female for reproductive purposes, the child-bearing function of the female, all suggest the female is the basic unit out of which and back toward whom the male component travels.
Darwin reverses the philosophic priorities of biblical mythologies. By founding his system on the biological processes in which the female has priority over the male and in which the body is prior to the mind he corrects the root cause of inconsistencies in traditional apologetics. In Platonic, Augustinian, Thomist, Cartesian, and Kantian apologetics the male usurps priority over the female and the mind is given priority over the body. The psychology of apologetics attempts to demonstrate the autonomy of the mind to guarantee the non-biological status of the male God and the invincibility of the soul.
The failure of the apologetic project, particularly after the arguments of Hume, created a hiatus into which philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and even Wittgenstein, further collapsed the understanding of ethics and aesthetics. As long as the illogical relationship of the mind to the body prevailed, metaphysics alone had to be the origin and repository of moral intent and artistic expression. The absolute, the ideal, the sublime, the moral good, were all seen to be inherent and inalienable characteristics of the incorporeal mind.
Kant, for instance, claimed that things in themselves (in one interpretation) were not knowable as they embodied the inaccessible state of pure being. And the early Wittgenstein argued that things ‘showed’ themselves in a way that language could only inadequately ‘say’ anything about. The function of philosophy was to determine the limit of sensible propositions and then consign the desire to know more to a mystical silence.
The characterisation of what is beyond knowledge or language as an unknowable or inexpressible lacuna created a metaphysical hiatus of an indeterminate nature. This is the abyss into which Kant was to reintroduce the concept of God, Hegel the concept of the Ideal, Schopenhauer the concept of the Will, and Nietzsche the concept of the Superhuman. The faculty of reason, logically the repository of ethical determinations, is reduced to a mere appendage that struggles futilely to reconcile itself with the unknown.
Out of the disarray of apologetic inconsistencies Duchamp organised his Large Glass on the logical principles consistent with those established by Darwin. He first acknowledged the priority of the female in nature. Duchamp’s female or ‘Bride’ not only characterised the top half of the Large Glass, she also represented the whole of the Large Glass, making the Large Glass pre-eminently feminine. Appropriately then, Duchamp characterises the lower half of the Large Glass or the ‘Domain of the Bachelors’ as completely dependent on the priority of the feminine dimension for their existence. The same logical structure occurs with the priority of the female over the male in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
Body and mindFor Darwin, the scientific evidence confirmed that all the dispositions of the human mind could be accounted for through evolutionary processes. By giving priority to the physical over the mental in the evolution of the human species Darwin provides a logical basis for the discussion of mental powers and moral sense. Because evolution involves both body and mind, to leave the body out of philosophy commits a fundamental error in logic. The only way to present the logical relationship between the mind and the universe is by considering the logic of the development of the mind from bodily processes.
The human being (as with other organic beings) is dependent on cellular processes. For every human being the dependence is epitomised by its growth from a single cell at conception into a multi-cellular organism. The propagation of the species through the pairing of sexual cells to form a single cell is a perpetual reminder of the cellular logic of organic life. As cells are the basic unit of organic life from which the body and mind develop it is logical to expect that the developing body has a profound influence on the development of the mind.
Evolutionary arguments establish the priority of the body over the mind. Only when the priority of the body is acknowledged can progress be made in accounting for the nature of the mind. The ‘mind/body’ problem in traditional philosophy is a direct consequence of the apologetic belief that the mind is prior to the body.
As language developed in concert with bodily development over evolutionary time, the logic of the human body determines the logic of human cognition. Human language is a natural development of the more primitive languages of human forebears. The genealogical tree of evolution is a branching structure of successes and failures based on the structural unit of the dynamic that is the parent/child relationship. The same dynamic and multiplicity is exhibited in the relationship of sensations and ideas. The sexual dynamic of female and male uniting to form a child is directly analogous to the process of the interchange of ideas and sensations.
The possibility that ideas are based on ‘difference’ and sensations on ‘indifference’ is a consequence of the logical relation of the sexual dynamic and the conscious mind. That cognitive processes are logically related to the bodily dynamic is evident in structure of syllogisms and symbolic representations of mental structures, such as the Christian trinity. Consistent with natural logic is the mythological use of the tree in Genesis as a symbol for the relation of the dynamic of the mind to life processes.
Even without taking the sexual dynamic into account, Lakoff and Johnson and others have demonstrated an extraordinary conjunction between bodily dispositions and cognitive structures. Antonio Damasio (107) uses recent discoveries in brain functions to argue that there is a direct correspondence between the mind’s capacity for thought and language and the structures and activities of the brain.
A philosophical system that discounts such facts reveals it dependence on psychological rather than philosophic criteria. Such expectations are apologia that compensate for the short-circuiting of the relationship between the mind and the world at large. When the ‘body’ is removed from the philosophic dynamic, its inherent sense of certainty needs to be accounted for within the mind alone. Certainty then becomes associated with the transcendental. While it is possible to entertain such thoughts it is useless to use them to account logically for human reason.
Inherent purposeDarwin’s recovery of the logical relationship between the body and mind also recovers the sense of purpose inherent in the processes of life. The sexual dynamic (female/male, child) has its logical counterpart in the dynamic of understanding (the ethical and the aesthetic). When the logical relation of body and mind is acknowledged there is no need to imagine a trans-ethical state beyond the knowable world.
Kant’s transcendental ethic, Hegel’s Ideal, and Schopenhauer’s Will, are illogical consequences of the attempt to compensate for prioritising the mind over the body. Because the logic of body and mind is not respected, the apologetic need to verbalise such transcendental experiences of universal purpose or value fails to respect the logic of sensations or aesthetics.
The ‘naturalistic fallacy’ proposed by G. E. Moore in his Principia Ethica is also a consequence of an illogical conception of the ethical. While he criticised others for making the sensation of pleasure or other natural sensations the focus of ethics, he could not see that his inability to define ‘good’ arose from a confusion of ethics and aesthetics. Moore’s singular ‘good’ is logically an aesthetic effect in the mind that is disengaged from the ‘endless jar’ of right and wrong in the ethical dynamic of language.
If Moore had begun his analysis of the ethical by acknowledging its derivation from nature and the sexual dynamic instead of beginning with the singular sensation of ‘good’ he would not have invented such a prejudicially named fallacy. Significantly, he considered ‘evil’ as an afterthought only in the last pages of his book instead of as an integral part of the logic of ethics.
A similar disjunction is created between ‘is and ought’ by Hume in A Treatise of Human Nature, and by others between ‘fact and value’. They do not distinguish between immediate aesthetic of ‘facts’ as objects perceived through sensation, and the ethical determination of ‘fact’ or ‘value’ through the dynamic of ideas in the mind. A ‘fact’ can be knowledge arrived at through the process of deliberate judgment, as when a previously unknown planet is discovered through calculation or a hypothesised continent such as Antarctica is discovered. In the dynamic of ethics, new facts are continuously being discovered and old facts re-evaluated according to new circumstances.
When apologists give the mind priority over the body, then both the ethical and the aesthetic are presumed to have originated beyond the mind, creating the illogicalities of idealist psychology. Logically, the effect of the traditional attempt to find moral purpose solely in the ideal as an absolute, and Moore’s attempt to isolate the singular sense of good beyond the influence of facts, is the same. When the body/mind dynamic is represented illogically it is inevitable that ‘values’ will seem at odds with ‘facts’.
If the body/mind priority is restored as the logical basis for understanding then the ethical is any consideration, determination, valuation, judgment, investigation that uses the process of ‘difference’ in language. Science as the pre-eminent discipline for understanding is not an ‘a-moral’ activity because it deals with facts, but is an inherently ethical activity because it determines true and false through language-based procedures. Because science is logically an ethical activity based in language, it follows that the phrase, ‘science of ethics’ is effectively a tautology.
The aesthetic, by contrast, is the realm of unmediated sensation or undifferentiated ideas. Any appeal to an absolute is logically an appeal to the aesthetic. Because there is no conscious knowledge of the absolute except as a sensation, the phrase ‘science of aesthetics’ is effectively a contradiction. The double capacity of the mind to simultaneously coordinate ideas and sensation is a logical consequence of the sexual dynamic of the body. The dynamic of the body relates the logic of ideal and sensations to the processes of life.
For Darwin, the moral impulse is inherent in life. Through the evolutionary process the human mind derives the dynamic of ideas and sensations from bodily relationships. The decision to withdraw value from the processes of science in the determination of ‘facts’ or ‘natural laws’ is a purely arbitrary one motivated by the desire to ignore the logical relation of the body to cognition. Similarly the decision to attribute moral value solely to what is the realm of aesthetics confers on the aesthetic impulse characteristics that are logically ethical.
It is possible for a sensation to determine a course of action. But the human being, by upbringing, by education, is so inured to immediately evaluate a sensation by rational processes that the tendency is to attribute to the sensation the characteristics of thought. It is the combination of the sensation with the conscious determinations of the will that characterise the activities of the human mind.
To name and describe a sensation after experiencing the sensation cannot substitute for the experience of the sensation. Likewise the sudden interjection of a word such as ‘hell’ or ‘Christ’ into the consciousness to signal an instantaneous intuition from the subconscious mind is as much a sensation as the sensation of pain. Usually the moment of intuition is surrounded quickly by conscious thoughts as the aesthetic and ethical dynamics interact.
Like Duchamp, and Shakespeare, Darwin recognises that nature is synonymous with the dynamic of life. A consistent understanding of the aesthetic and the ethical emerges only when the priorities in nature of the female over the male and the body over the mind is respected.
SummaryThe little Darwin did write about the ethical and aesthetic is more consistent than the volumes written by Plato, Descartes or Kant. In Wittgensteinian terms the apologetic expectation can be characterised as the difference between believing in the reality of a set of imagined states of affairs in preference to a set of existing states of affairs.
Imaginative exercises within the mind become illogical if they are believed to be existing states of affairs. Humankind has survived, it may be argued, by bringing to fruition certain possibilities that were once only imagined. The problem arises when imagined states of affairs based in the deep sensations of the mind assume a certainty that is logically attributable only to existing states of affairs. A consistent philosophy cannot logically take account of such over-determined states of affairs without first recognising their illogical status.
Hume showed the inconsistency that arises in apologetic claims when states of affairs are over-determined. Hume, however, had little or no sense of the full dynamic of natural logic. His trademark scepticism was a logical consequence of his inability to see beyond his critique of the God of faith. He found, though, that he could not sustain his philosophical scepticism in real life. His confusion about ‘is and ought’was a consequence of the irresolution between his scepticism and the existence of everyday things and events.
Darwin’s evolutionary understanding of the body and mind consistently accounts for current states of affairs and allows for the potential existence of any possible states of affairs over time. It has the appropriate logical multiplicity to enable an understanding of both nature and of the dynamic of the human mind.
Darwin managed to arrive at a consistent understanding of the dynamic of the human mind even though he was not a professional philosopher. It is ironical that in forty years of philosophising Wittgenstein was only able to go part way toward Darwin’s clarity about human existence and purpose. Instead, an artist with little love for the logic of language provides the fullest expression to the natural logic of life since Darwin. In his Large Glass, Duchamp presents an understanding of aesthetics that is consistent with the sexual dynamic from which Darwin derives his understanding of human thought and expression.
After reviewing some of the literature on Duchamp and considering the work of Wittgenstein and Darwin, it is apparent that Thierry de Duve’s attempt in Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp to account for Duchamp’s work from the vantage of recent art history seriously misrepresents his accomplishment. The attempt to understand Duchamp’s philosophy out of the phrase ‘a sort of pictorial nominalism’ and out of Kant’s notion of ‘aesthetic judgment’overlooks the natural logic of the Large Glass. Because neither nominalism as a philosophical style nor Kant as an apologist would accept the logical relation between the body and mind available in Darwin’s Descent of Man, the analysis of Duchamp’s work in Pictorial Nominalism and Kant after Duchamp does not begin to fathom its profundity.
Darwin’s recovery of the body/mind relation provides a logical basis for incorporating the contributions of Duchamp and Wittgenstein into a consistent and comprehensive philosophy. It explains why Duchamp’s seemingly offhand works have such an unlikely hold on the imagination and how they challenge psychological prejudices. Darwin’s contribution to the understanding of natural logic presented in these volumes has been essential for a clear and complete understanding of the logical relationship between the works of Duchamp and the I of Shakespeare. And it is in Shakespeare’s precise philosophic system that these issues are most consistently and comprehensively resolved.
Notes are numbered continuously throughout the webpages on Darwin, Wittgenstein, Mallarmé, Duchamp to Shakespeare
99 Stephen J. Gould, Dinosaur in a Haystack, London, Jonathan Cape, 1996, pp. 159, 176. Back
THE SONNET PHILOSOPHY + SONNET COMMENTARIES + PLAY COMMENTARIES + SHAKESPEARE & MATURE LOVE
DARWIN, WITTGENSTEIN & DUCHAMP + JAQUES + INQUEST + QUIETUS + GLOSSARY + CONTACT