Audio Tour Full Text: Ancilla — RETOUR, Resources

Annotations for RETOUR

1. Bertrand Russell, Nobel Lecture

All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.

2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of The Solitary Walker, Fifth Walk

My morning exercise and the good temper which is inseparable from it made the pause for lunch very enjoyable. But when it took too long and good weather beckoned, I could not wait so long.

While they were still at the table, I would slip away and go throw myself alone into a boat that I rowed to the middle of the lake when the water was calm; and there, stretching myself out full-length in the boat, my eyes turned to heaven, I let myself slowly drift back and forth with the water, sometimes for several hours, plunged in a thousand confused, but delightful, reveries which, even without having any well-determined or constant object, were in my opinion a hundred times preferable to the sweetest things I had found in what are called the pleasures of life. Often, warned by the setting of the sun that it was the hour of retreat, I would find myself so far from the island that I was forced to work with all my might to get back before nightfall.


In the vicissitudes of a long life, I have noticed that the periods of sweetest enjoyment and most intense pleasures are, nevertheless, not those whose recollection most attracts and touches me.

Those short moments of delirium and passion, however intense they might be, are, even with their intensity, still only scattered points along the path of life. They are too rare and too rapid to constitute a state of being; and the happiness for which my heart longs is in no way made up of fleeting instants, but rather a simple and permanent state which has nothing intense in itself but whose duration increases its charm to the point that I finally find supreme felicity in it.

Everything is in continual flux on earth. Nothing on it retains a constant and static form, and our affections, which are attached to external things, necessarily pass away and change as they do.

Always ahead of or behind us, they recall the past which is no longer or foretell the future which often is in no way to be: there is nothing solid there to which the heart might attach itself. Thus, here-below we have hardly anything but transitory pleasure. As for happiness which lasts, I doubt that it is known here, in our most intense enjoyments, there is hardly an instant when the heart can truly say to us: I would like this instant to last forever. And how can we call happiness a fleeting state which leaves our heart still worried and empty, which makes us long for something beforehand or desire something else afterward?

But if there is a state in which the soul finds a solid enough base to rest itself on entirely and to gather its whole being into, without needing to recall the past or encroach upon the future; in which time is nothing for it; in which the present lasts forever without, however, making its duration noticed and without any trace of time’s passage; without any other sentiment of deprivation or of enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear, except that alone of our existence, and having this sentiment alone fill it completely; as long as this state lasts, he who finds himself in it can call himself happy, not with an imperfect, poor, and relative happiness such as one finds in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, perfect, and full happiness which leaves in the soul no emptiness it might feel a need to fill. Such is the state in which I often found myself during my solitary reveries on St. Peter’s Island, either lying in my boat as I let it drift with the water or seated on the banks of the tossing lake; or elsewhere, at the edge of a beautiful river or of a brook murmuring over pebbles.

What do we enjoy in such a situation? Nothing external to ourselves, nothing if not ourselves and our own existence. As long as this state lasts, we are sufficient unto ourselves, like God. The sentiment of existence, stripped of any other emotion, is in itself a precious sentiment of contentment and of peace which alone would suffice to make this existence dear and sweet to anyone able to spurn all the sensual and earthly impressions which incessantly come to distract us from it and to trouble its sweetness here-below.

3. Thomas Nagel, What Is It Like to Be a Bat?

Certainly it appears unlikely that we will get closer to the real nature of human experience by leaving behind the particularity of our human point of view and striving for a description in terms accessible to beings that could not imagine what it was like to be us. If the subjective character of experience is fully comprehensible only from one point of view, then any shift to greater objectivity— that is, less attachment to a specific viewpoint— does not take us nearer to the real nature of the phenomenon: it takes us farther away from it. 


What could be clearer than the words”is” and “are”? 

But I believe it is precisely this apparent clarity of the word “is” that is deceptive. Usually, when we are told that X is Y we know how it is supposed to be true, but that depends on a conceptual or theoretical background and is not conveyed by the “is” alone. We know how both “X” and “Y” refer, and the kinds of things to which they refer, and we have a rough idea how the two referential paths might converge on a single thing, be it an object, a person, a process, an event, or whatever. But when the two terms of the identification are very disparate it may not be so clear how it could be true. We may not have even a rough idea of how the two referential paths could converge, or what kind of things they might converge on, and a theoretical framework may have to be supplied to enable us to understand this. Without the framework, an air of mysticism surrounds the identification.

4. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Chapter 1

In justice as fairness the original position of equality corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract. This original position is not, of course, thought of as an actual historical state of affairs, much less as a primitive condition of culture. It is understood as a purely hypothetical situation characterized so as to lead to a certain conception of justice. Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain. For given the circumstances of the original position, the symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other, this initial situation is fair between individuals as moral persons, that is, as rational beings with their own ends and capable, I shall assume, of a sense of justice. The original position is, one might say, the appropriate initial status quo, and thus the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair. This explains the propriety of the name “justice as fairness”: it conveys the idea that the principles of justice are agreed to in an initial situation that is fair. The name does not mean that the concepts of justice and fairness are the same, any more than the phrase “poetry as metaphor” means that the concepts of poetry and metaphor are the same.

5. Plato, Timaeus, 86b

Such is the manner in which disorders of the body arise; disorders of the soul are caused by the bodily condition in the following way. It will be granted that folly is disorder of the soul; and of folly there are two kinds, madness and stupidity. Accordingly, any affection that brings on either of these must be called a disorder; and among the gravest disorders for the soul we must rank excessive pleasures and pains. When a man is carried away by enjoyment or distracted by pain, in his immoderate haste to grasp the one or to escape the other he can neither see nor hear aright; he is in a frenzy and his capacity for reasoning is then at its lowest. Moreover, when the seed in a man’s marrow becomes copious with overflowing moisture like the overabundance of fruitfulness in a tree, he is filled with strong pains of travail and with pleasures no less strong on each occasion in his desires and in their satisfaction; for the most part of his life he is maddened by these intense pleasures and pains; and when his soul is rendered sick and senseless by the body he is commonly held to be not sick but deliberately bad. But the truth is that sexual intemperance is a disorder of the soul arising, to a great extent, from the condition of a single substance which, owing to the porousness of the bones, floods the body with its moisture. We might almost say, indeed, of all that is called incontinence in pleasure that it it not justly made a reproach, as if men were willingly bad. No one is willingly bad; the bad man becomes so because of some faulty habit of body and unenlightened upbringing, and these are unwelcome afflictions that come to any man against his will.

Again, where pains are concerned, the soul likewise derives much badness from the body. When acid and salt phlegms or bitter bilious humours roam about the body and, finding no outlet, are pent up within and fall into confusion by blending the vapour that arises from them with the motion of the soul, they induce all manner of disorders of the soul of greater or less intensity and extent. Making their way to the three seats of the soul, according to the region they severally invade, they beget many diverse types of ill-temper and despondency, of rashness and cowardice, of dullness and oblivion.

Besides all this, when men of so bad a composition dwell in cities with evil forms of government, where no less evil discourse is held both in public and private. and where, moreover, no course of study that might counteract this poison is pursued from youth upward, that is how all of us who are bad become so, through two causes that are altogether against the will. For these the blame must fall upon the parents rather than the offspring. and upon those who give, rather than those who receive, nurture; nevertheless, a man must use his utmost endeavour by means of education, pursuits, and study to escape from badness and lay hold upon its contrary.

6. Noam Chomsky, The Mysteries of Nature: How Deeply Hidden?

Having argued that the mind-body problem disappears when we follow the “principles of the Newtonian philosophy,” Priestley turns to confronting efforts to reconstitute something that resembles the problem, even after one of its terms—body (matter, and so on)— no longer has a clear sense. The first is “the difficulty of conceiving how thought can arise from matter … an argument that derives all its force from our ignorance,” he writes, and has no force unless there is a demonstration that they are “absolutely incompatible with one another.” Priestley was not troubled by qualms arising from ignorance, rightly I think, any more than scientists should have been concerned about irreducibility of the mysterious properties of matter and motion to the mechanical philosophy, or in more modern times, about the inability to reduce chemistry to an inadequate physics until the 1930s, to take two significant moments from the history of science.

A common objection today is that such ideas invoke an unacceptable form of “radical emergence,” unlike the emergence of liquids from molecules, where the properties of the liquid can in some reasonable sense be regarded as inhering in the molecules. In Nagel’s phrase, “we can see how liquidity is the logical result of the molecules ‘rolling around on each other’ at the microscopic level,” though “nothing comparable is to be expected in the case of neurons” and consciousness. Also taking liquidity as a paradigm, Galen Strawson argues extensively that the notion of emergence is intelligible only if we interpret it as “total dependence”: if “some part or aspect of Y [hails] from somewhere else,” then we cannot say that Y is “emergent from X.” We can speak intelligibly about emergence of Y-phenomena from non-Y phenomena only if the non-Y phenomena at the very least are “somehow intrinsically suited to constituting” the X-phenomena; there must be “something about X’s nature in virtue of which” they are “so suited.” “It is built into the notion of emergence that emergence cannot be brute in the sense of there being no reason in the nature of things why the emerging thing is as it is.” This is Strawson’s No-Radical Emergence Thesis, from which he draws the panpsychic conclusion that “experiential reality cannot possibly emerge from wholly and utterly non-experiential reality.” The basic claim, which he high- lights, is that “If it really is true that Y is emergent from X then it must be the case that Y is in some sense wholly dependent on X and X alone, so that all features of Y trace intelligibly back to X.” Here “intelligible” is a metaphysical rather than an epistemic notion, meaning “intelligible to God”: there must be an explanation in the nature of things, though we may not be able to attain it.


As noted above, with the collapse of the traditional notion of body (and so on), there are basically two ways to reconstitute some problem that resembles the traditional mind-body problem: define physical, or set the problem up in other terms, such as those that Priestley anticipated.

The first option is developed by Galen Strawson in an important series of publications. Unlike many others, he does give a definition of “physical,” so that it is possible to formulate a physical-nonphysical problem. The physical is “any sort of existent [that is] spatio-temporally (or at least temporally) located).” The physical includes “experiential events” (more generally mental events), and permits formulation of the question of how experiential phenomena can be physical phenomena—a “mind-body problem,” in a post-Newtonian version. Following Eddington and Russell, and earlier antecedents, Priestley, Strawson concludes that “physical stuff has, in itself, ‘a nature capable of manifesting itself as mental activity,’ that is, as experience or consciousness.”

That much seems uncontroversial, given the definitions along with some straightforward facts. But Strawson intends to establish the much stronger thesis of micropsychism (which he identifies here with panpsychism): “at least some ultimates are intrinsically experience- involving.” The crucial premise for that further conclusion, as Strawson makes explicit, is the No-Radical Emergence Thesis, already discussed, from which it follows that “experiential reality cannot possibly emerge from wholly and utterly non-experiential reality,” a metaphysical issue, not an epistemic one. Strawson interprets Eddington’s position to be micropsychism, citing his observation that it would be “rather silly to prefer to attach [thought] to something of a so-called ‘concrete’ nature inconsistent with thought, and then to wonder where the thought comes from,” and that we have no knowledge “of the nature of atoms that renders it all incongruous that they should constitute a thinking object.” This however appears to fall short of Strawson’s micro-psychism/panpsychism. Rather, Eddington seems to go no farther than Priestley’s conception, writing that nothing in physics leads us to reject the conclusion that an “assemblage of atoms constituting a brain” can be “a thinking (conscious, experiencing) object.” He does not, it seems, adopt the No-Radical Emergence Thesis that is required to carry the argument beyond to Strawson’s conclusion. Russell too stops short of this critical step, and Priestley explicitly rejects it, regarding radical emergence as normal science. Textual interpretation aside, the issues seem fairly clearly drawn.

[…]we cannot so easily assume that there are non-experiential truths; in fact the assumption may be “silly,” as Eddington put it. Some physicists have reached such conclusions on quantum-theoretic grounds. The late John Wheeler argued that the “ultimates” may be just “bits of information,” responses to queries posed by the investigator.


In symbolic systems of other animals, symbols appear to be linked directly to mind-independent events. The symbols of human language are sharply different. Even in the simplest cases, there is no word-object relation, where objects are mind-independent entities. There is no reference relation, in the technical sense familiar from Frege and Peirce to contemporary externalists. Rather, it appears that we should adopt something like the approach of the seventeenth and eighteenth century cognitive revolution, and the conclusions of Shaftesbury and Hume that the “peculiar nature belonging to” the linguistic elements used to refer is not something external and mind-independent. Rather, their peculiar nature is a complex of perspectives involving Gestalt properties, cause-and-effect, “sympathy of parts” directed to a “common end,” psychic continuity, and other such mental properties. In Hume’s phrase, the “identity, which we ascribe” to vegetables, animal bodies, artifacts, or “the mind of man”—the array of individuating properties— is only a “fictitious one,” established by our “cognoscitive powers,” as they were termed by his seventeenth century predecessors.

7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Reveries of The Solitary Walker, Seventh Walk

I cannot concentrate my whole existence within myself, since my expansive soul seeks to extend its ideas and faculties to other objects; nor can I rush blindfold into the vast ocean of nature, because my weakened and relaxed intellects no longer find objects within their reach sufficiently fixed and powerful to sustain them. I have not strength to wade through the chaos of my former ecstasies, my ideas are now scarce anything but sensations, and the sphere of my understanding is not superior to the objects which immediately surround me.

8. Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?, Chapter 2

This is how matters of orthodox religion are usually dealt with, and this is how people now deal with the conception of beauty. It is taken for granted that what is meant by the word beauty is known and understood by everyone. And yet not only is this not known, but, after whole mountains of books have been written on the subject by the most learned and profound thinkers […]

What is this strange conception “beauty,” which seems so simple to those who talk without thinking, but in defining which all the philosophers of various tendencies and different nationalities can come to no agreement during a century and a half? What is this conception of beauty, on which the dominant doctrine of art rests?


I shall not quote the definitions of beauty attributed to the ancients,—Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc., down to Plotinus,—because, in reality, the ancients had not that conception of beauty separated from goodness which forms the basis and aim of aesthetics in our time. By referring the judgments of the ancients on beauty to our conception of it, as is usually done in aesthetics, we give the words of the ancients a meaning which is not theirs.

9. Stéphane Mallarmé, Le Phénomène futur

The pale sky, over a world in decrepitude, will perhaps pass with the clouds : the tattered purple of the sunset is fading into a river sleeping on a horizon submerged in sunlight and water. The trees are tired; and, beneath their whitened leaves (by the dust of time rather than from the roads,) rises the canvas house of the Showman of Past Things: many a lamp awaits dusk to lighten the faces of an unhappy crowd, defeated by the immortal illness and sin of centuries, men standing by their wretched accomplices pregnant with the miserable fruit with which the earth shall perish. In the uneasy silence of all eyes supplicating yonder sun, which beneath the water, sinks with despairing cry, here is the simple pitch: “No sign beckons you with the spectacle within, for there is not now a painter capable of giving the barest shadow of it. I bring, alive (and preserved through the years by supreme science), Woman of a former world. A certain lunacy, original and natural, an ecstasy of gold, I know not what! how to describe her tresses, a graceful falling fabric round visage illuminated by the blood-red nudity of her lips. In place of vain vestments, she has a body; and the eyes, like rare stones! as of no value to the sight that comes of her gratified flesh: breasts laden as if full of eternal milk, points to the sky, of legs still slick with salt from the primordial sea.” Recalling their poor wives, threadbare, morbid, and full of horror, the husbands press forward: and the wives, too, out of melancholy curiosity, wish to see.

When all have looked upon the noble creature, vestige of an epoch accursed, some, indifferent, not having power to comprehend, but others, overwhelmed with grief and eyes wet with tears of resignation, turn to each other; whilst the poets of these times, feeling their dead eyes brighten, drag themselves to their lamps, brains drunk for a moment in confused glory, haunted by Rhythm and forgetting they exist in the epoch that has outlived Beauty.