Practical Philosophy
Gibbs A. Williams, Ph.D.

Selected Philosophical Quotations and Commentary
Relevant to Significant Psychological Change

Part 1

The following commentary by C.E.M. Joad is a pithy overview of the problem of change from a philosophical perspective.

C.E.M. Joad: The Problem of Change {A Philosophical Perspective}
{There are two fundamental philosophical positions concerning the nature of change.

(l) That in fact what appears to be change is only illusory.
(2) Change is the only reality.

Spinoza is representative of those philosophers who assume that what appears to be change is only apparent change. His argument is if reality is a unified whole {a basic ontological assumption about the nature of reality}, and if this whole can be shown to be changeless, it will follow that any apparent change in the parts of reality will be only apparent." While it is apparent that the acorn changes into an oak - Aristotle would argue that the oak is latent in the acorn.

It is further argued that time - in which all things seem to change - is itself an illusion that only appears real by virtue of man's imposition of the concept of time by way of his consciousness. If time, is indeed an illusion {i.e. a useful organizing construct} the following argument seems valid. "If time does not belong to the nature of things, the universe must be changeless, since the notion of change which entails the conception of before and after, also entails the notion of time."

The second group of philosophers who believe that change is the only reality - that everything is in a constantstate of flux - are represented by Bergson. For him man is in a constant state of becoming. Nothing remains static. "The universe is itself a stream of perpetual change."

An objective viewer of these two apparently contradictory positions about the nature of change might arguer that perhaps both are right. Aristotle attempts to account for the unity in diversity in the following way. For him there is a fundamental unity to reality however there is also the reality of growth and development. The acorn is fixed but under right conditions it 'changes' into an oak tree.

Aristotle would argue that the growth {change} of the oak from the acorn seed as the result of the development of potentiality {oak} already latent in the matter {acorn} which is the actuality of the potential in question. Growth and development {what we refer to as change} " what was potential becomes actual."

There is a third philosophical view asserts" while units are changeless, the relations between them change, so that they are continually entering into new combinations. An analogy for this conception would be the way in which the various pieces of a puzzle can be put together to form different patterns or pictures,the difference between one pattern and another being due to the different combinations in which the same constituent pieces can be arranged. Change, then, on this view, will be due to alteration in the arrangement of fundamentally changeless units.

A fourth view of the nature of change would be "that the universe consists of non-enduring units which are constantly coming into and going out of existence. So long as it persists, the unit, we shall say, does not change. What is normally called change will on this view be the supersession of one unit by another. Just as the only changes envisaged by the first view are those of alteration of position and arrangement, so on this second view the only changes will be those of generation and annihilation.

An analogy for this second conception would be the constituents of a cinematographic film. These constituents are single static photographs; the illusion of continuous change is produced by turning the reel, so as to cause the photographs to succeed one another very rapidly.

According to this second conception, the apparently continuous living man is an illusion in just the same sense as the cinematographic man whom we see on the pictures is an illusion; he is in fact, not one continuous man, but a series of successive men. As each member of the series is annihilated, another is generated in its place; but so long as it persists , there is no change in any member of the series.

Spinoza: On The Improvement of the Understanding
{Opening Spinoza's next book, we come at the outset upon one of the gems of philosophic literature. Spinoza tells why he gave up everything for philosophy.}

After experience had taught me that all things which frequently take place in ordinary life are vain and futile, and when I saw that all the things I feared, and which feared me, had nothing good or bad in them save in so far as the mind was affected by them; I determined at last to inquire whether there was anything which might be truly good, and able to communicate its goodness, and by which the mind might be affected to the exclusion of all other things; I determined, I say, to inquire whether I might discover and attain the faculty of enjoying throughout eternity continual supreme happiness ... I could see the many advantages acquired from honor and riches, and that I should be debarred from acquiring these things if I wished seriously to investigate a new matter. But the more one possesses of either of them, the more the pleasure is increased, and the more one is in consequence encouraged to increase them; whereas if at any time our hope is frustrated, there arises in us the deepest pain. Fame has also this great drawback, that if we pursue it we must direct our lives in such a way as to please the fancy of men, avoiding what they dislike and seeking what pleases them. But the love towards a thing eternal and infinite alone feeds the mind with a pleasure secure from all pain. The greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature. The more the mind knows, the better it understands its forces and the order of nature; the more it understands its forces or strength, the better it will be able to direct itself and lay down the rules for itself; the more it understands the order of nature, the more easily it will be able to liberate itself from useless things; this is the whole method. Spinoza cited in The Story of Philosophy, Durant, l972 p.166.

Gibbs' Commentary
For Spinoza as it is for Freud and other seminal analytic theorists: the path to freedom - peace of mind - is in the aquisition and application of objective knowledge of inner and external reality.

Spinoza's Conclusion to the Ethics
Thus I have completed all I wished to show concerning the power of the mind emotions, or the freedom of the mind. From which it is clear how much a wise man is in front of and how stronger he is than an ignorant one, who is guided by lust alone. For an ignorant man, besides being agitaed in many ways by external causes, never enjoys one true satisfaction of the mind: he lives, moreover, almost unconscious of himself, God, and things, and as soon as he ceases to be passive, ceases to be. On the contrary the wise man, in so far as he is conscious of himself, of God, and things by a certain necessity; he never ceases to be, and always enjoys satisfaction of mind. If the road I have shown to lead to this is very difficult, it can yet be discovered. And clearly it must be very hard when it is so seldom found. For how could it be that it is neglected practically by all, if salvation were close at hand and could be found without difficulty? But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare." Spinoza in The Ethics cited in The Story of Philosophy p.169.

Gibbs' Commentary
For Spinoza - knowledge is the key to freeing oneself from personal bondage - the so called 'ghosts of the past' but such essential knowledge only comes as a result of struggling with struggle.

Heidegger On Being and Time
... I am thrown into a world not of my choosing and that precisely this contingent character of my situation is, despite myself, the self I have the task of choosing. {Consciously} challenge ... human being {s} to escape from enslavement into freedom and by the same act to transform historical necessity into resolution.

... How does human being become a whole? It is here, finally, that the meaning and structure of existential time emerge and that human being is found to be primarily historical - that is, to possess a destiny. What is existential time? In the first place it is not just time, but my time. It is the span of my life. ...

... I have been cast; to play for no audience and no applause, but solely for the performance itself which I am and beyond which I am nothing ... Destiny {is derived by a few who dare to face this essential nothingness ... who, in so doing} 'shape {their} life in the light, or the darkness of that encounter. Commentary by Marjorie Greene The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 463}

Gibbs' Commentary
Heidegger identifies many analytic patients who experience a void at the core of themselves. One patient referred to this experience as 'a hole in my soul.'His successful analytic therapy was experienced by him not as a spitirual rebirth but having been born for the first time. For him, it was as if something substantial was truly derived out of something non existent.

Jaspers' Philosophy of the Future (l949)
Philosophy strives to apprehen eternal truth ... Philosophy upholds the aspiration to attain the meaning of life beyond all wordly purposesw, - to make manifest the meaning that embraces all these purposes, - cutting in a sense across life to fulfill this meaning by actual realization,- to serve the future by our own actuality, - never to debase man or a man to the level of a instrument ... The aim of philosophy is at all times to achieve the independence of man as an individual.This he gains by establishing a relation to authentic being.He gains indepence of everything that happens in the world by the depth of his attachment to transcendence ... Today our task is to find in existence itself a new foundation for reason. That is the urgent task in the spiritual situation defined by Kierkegaard and Neitzche, Pascal and Dosteovsky.

Its fulfillment cannot consist in the restoration of what has been. Today it would seem to imply the following elements:

(l) We seek peace of mind by keeping ourselves constantly alert.
(2) We pass through nihilism to the assimilation of our tradition.
(3) We seek the purity of the sciences as a prmise for the truth of our philosophy.
(4) Reason becomes a boundless desire for communication.

... We assimilate the philosophical attainments of every epoch by remaining in constantly renewed communication with the great achievements of the past, looking upon them not as transcended but as actual ... In our temporal transcience we know the actuality and simultaneity of essential truth, of the philosophia perennis which at all times effaces time.

... Philosophy itself must be methodically re-clarified. It is science in the age-old and enduring sense of methodical thought, but it is not science in the pure modern sense of an inquiry into things, leading to universally valid, cogent knowledge, identical for all ... Today the purity of philosophy must be gained along with the purity of science. The two are inseparable, but they are not the same thing: philosophy is neither a specialized science along with the others, nor a crowning science resulting from the others, nor a foundation-laying science by which the others are secured ... In opposition to the disintegration of science intounrelated specialties,in opposition to the scientific superstition of the masses, in opposition to the superficialoity brought upon philosophy by the confusion of science and philosophy, - scientific research and philosophy must join hands to guie us on the path of authentic truth.

... Today, we are at length becoming fully aware that humanity implies unreserved communication among men ... Everything real in man is historical. But historicity means also multiple historicity.Hence the postulates if true communication are:

(l) to become concerned with the historically different without becoming untrue to one's own historicity
(2) to reveal the relativiity of scientific truth, while fully recognizing its just claims
(3) to abandon the claim of faith to exclusivity because of the breach of communication it implies, yet without losing the absoluteness of one's own fundament
(4) to take up the inevitable struggle with the historically different, but to sublimate the battle in the loving battle, in communication through the truth that develops when men act in common, not as abstract individuals
(5) to orient ourselves towards the depths that are disclosed only with the division into manifold historicities, to one of which I belong, but which all concern me and which all together guide me to that source.

... The will to boundless communication is not a program but the very essence of philosophical {psychoanalytic} faith - and from it stem the particular purposes and methods of communication at all its levels. ... Boundless openess to communication is not the consequence of any knowledge, it is the decision to follow a human road. The idea of communication is not utopia, but faith. Each man is confronted with the question whether he strives toward it, whether he believes in it, not as in something other-wordly, but as in something utterly actual: whether he believes in our potentiality really to live together, to speak together, though this togetherness to find a way to the truth, and thereby finally to become authentically ourselves.

In our present distress, we understand that communication is the fundamental task before us. The elucidation of communication from its multiple source; in the modes of the Comprehensive is becoming a central theme of philosophical endeavor. But to carry communication in all its possibilities closer to realization, is the daily labor of philosophy {and of psychoanalytic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy}. cited in The Philosophy of the Future pp.156-183.

Gibbs' Commentary
Jaspers clear respect for all philosophy and philosophers - official or unofficial- the dedication to seeking the truth through openess of communication - and the value significance placed on understanding based on appreciation of personal and collective history are all major contibutory variables in seeking and attaining significant psychological change.



Preface | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Gibbs A.Williams Ph.D.© 1999-2000