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Saturday, 11 July 2015

Ultimate, absolute reality and Bernard Williams

In a review of a book of essays by the philosopher Bernard Williams (London Review of Books 2nd July 2015)  I came across this:

"The pieces are informed by two general arguments in his philosophy. One is for the possibility of what he called an 'absolute knowledge' of the world that is 'to the largest possible extent independent of the local perspectives or idiosyncrasies of inquirers - the kind of knowledge to which scientists aspire."

The little I know of this area of science suggests that when you observe something you change it - that is, "reality" and the observer are contingent upon each other. Isn't that one of the things the theory of relativity tells us? (I'm open to offers of help at this point...)

That being so, I can only see one way of knowing the universe free of my idiosyncrasies and local perspectives, of being IN the world. That doesn't involve observing it, in any scientific sense (tremendously valuable though that is.) Nor does it involve verbal analysis (ditto).

We can get moments of such "independent" being in the world when we meditate (you could see that coming, couldn't you?) It's a state of being that is often called "mystical." Not a term I like much, because it can suggest mystifying, making something obscure and remote. But so-called "mystics" have written about it - in so far as it can be written about.

The presentmomentness of being IN the world, OF the universe and not separate from it, is an absolute knowledge, or rather an absolute state of being, I guess, and it is independent of our local perspectives or idiosyncrasies. It must be, because writers from very different cultures try to say the same sort of things about it.

I still like most one of the most ancient statements; it admits defeat as soon as it has started: "The way that can be spoken of is not the perfect way." But I also like Angharad Price's "tranquillity," her "transparency between myself and the world" (my post about her book, June 3rd.)

I expect Bernard Williams, a powerful writer and speaker, a great moral philosopher, would tear into all of the above - he was known for being a bit sharp-tongued and sharp-penned - but I'm sticking with it. Meditation can get us there. Scientific or verbal enquiry and analysis, on their own, wonderful as they are - don't.

 Bernard Williams:

 Lao Tse (possibly...if he existed...if he wrote "Tao Te Ching...):

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