‘Pebbles and Pearls’ is a captivating and exhaustive journey into Western Philosophy.
Owen Everard James’ deftly written prologue examines the psychological and social aspects of thanatology. Of death, James is unafraid, although he concedes there is something unnerving about the dying process. This contemplation gives way to the crux of his literary monument, i.e., the meaning of existence.
James explores life’s purpose; and his inquiry runs deeps. Are we designers of our destiny? Moreover, are we merely footprints in the unfathomable sands of time? At the outset, James finds common ground in the Romantic and Enlightenment periods. Institutions and cultures come and go in cycles of evolution, and central is man – a creator – and at the same time, a subject of his creation.
“We are our masters – so free, in fact, that we could knowingly or unknowingly be the agents of our own extinction,” writes James. However, for all our mastery, “there are inevitable limitations in knowledge, life experience and insight…”
Surely, we are participants in an endless process of existential renewal…we are chapters, if not footnotes, in the endless chronicle of existence.”
Existence, according to the author, “is being or discerned or discernible presence, “that “neither teaches lessons nor makes promises….offering critical opportunities to learn or enhance our chances of survival.”
James posits that existence is “an eternal process – without beginning or ending…and that it comports very well with the thinking of Pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides’ succinct declaration, “Ex nihilo nihil fit” – from nothing, nothing comes.”
It follows that freedom is arguably intrinsic in value and that “not exercising one’s freedom does not mean one is not free.”
James builds on the established arguments on existence and freedom, presenting his own archetypal version.
Of freedom, he pens, “There is often conflict and misunderstanding, when we consider freedom in respect of its exercise as individuals or institutions.”
According to James, there is an aesthetic, if not divine quality to man’s freedom. In the vein of existentialist Victor Frankl, his is a thesis centering on the will to meaning.
In the case of institutions, “freedom is purely the construct of the accumulation or aggregation of individual power that originated in the intrinsic freedom of individuals and then freely conceded or surrendered to such institutions.”
James fashions life into a matrix of forces, a yin and yang of energy, interconnected and interdependent. Therein is the individual, at times alone, but still part of an existential gestalt – “a personal struggle forever between aloneness and community.”
He writes, “We are but one thread of many that comprise the grand web of existence; there is a false certitude about our singular significance “
Never bereft of reason, James explores exigent questions with detail. Great minds have long advanced prodigious theses on life and existence. Indeed, philosophy and theology were shaped by the quest to know, to make sense of the seemingly ineffable. Metaphysics emerged out of studies in consciousness. Anslem of Canterbury advanced the first ontological argument on God in Proslogion (1078). St. Thomas Aquinas added to this abstruse and illusive subject with epistemological arguments for the creator-existence dynamic.
The Cartesian (libertarian), Hegelian (the mind as the freest of agents), and Kantian (placating desires through reason) views of freedom and free will, were inextricably bound to existence and fate.
James’ literary criticism of these key philosophical theories in philosophy is insightful.
And while there is no definitive, empirical resolution on this subject, there are qualitative truths that bring us closer to understanding our purpose within an evolutionary and creational construct.
James does not embrace the ontological, epistemological or teleological arguments for creation, neither doers he refute them; but they all find a place in his paradigm.
Interestingly, there appears a Nietzsche-like pessimism in some of James’ writing. Man savours his ignorance, he concludes. He writes, “It is understandable and easy for the knowledgeable to assume that knowledge will inevitably overcome ignorance.” He bemoans the fallacy of this assumption, arguing that, “there is the fierce commitment of the ignorant to the reliable comfort of their ignorance.”
He is equally didactic as he shifts to the political and economic zeitgeist of the west. Capitalism as a system is gasping and reform is dire and necessary for economic equanimity, he notes. However, this supposed change is questionable as the political climate indicates.
James impugns the indolence and ineptitude of lawmakers amidst America’s political freefall; and autocratic rule could well be imminent, he avers.
Alarmingly, the Democratic Party is given a pass as he unleashes a damning indictment on the “45 president,” citing comparisons with the rise of Nazism and “white tribalism,” – for many, a hyperbole and a preposterous overreach.
And of man’s response to the ever changing world of technology, James states, “Although [these] certainly resulted in generally more favorable than unfavorable outcomes, they no doubt caused varying degrees of discontent and distress among a wide range of people around the globe.” Nevertheless, he offers that “it is important to recognize the distinct relevance, contributory nature, endless value and extensive impact of human imagination,” – a new cultural dynamic that is “symptomatic” of man’s innate freedom.
Throughout, James clothes his work with analytical depth, but never does he surrender clarity in the process. In making thinkers in all of us, he has succeeded.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
Feedback: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby
Copyright © 2019 Owen Everard James
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