Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 15

(Read Part 14 of the series.)

Phenomenology and Existentialism

This movement began in the late nineteenth century as a theory of knowledge that attempted to reinstate science and bring in the modern findings from psychology and sociology to supplant the subjectivity that had predominated until then with the German Idealists. In particularly the wish was to understand the nature of awareness, differentiating between mental and non-mental realms.  Edmund Husserl, who was the teacher of Martin Heidegger (below), is generally credited with establishing the movement. It was acknowledged that we could not know that objects exist independent of our awareness of them but also that it cannot be denied that we are conscious of ‘things’. Phenomenology endeavoured to start from this point and attempt to analyse our experience without making any further assumptions. It subsequently merged into Existentialism.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was particularly interested in perception and the nature of the perceiving entity and ‘object’ of perception. He disliked both the empiricist and idealist approaches and spent much of his time attacking all dualist concepts such as the mind-matter division of Descartes. There cannot be any totally objective perception of the world, he said, because our perceptual apparatus is itself part of the world. Whenever we see something, what we ‘see’ comes along with everything else that we already know and the perception itself is the sum total of all of this. We can never see a chair, for example, without the awareness of its purpose as something for sitting on. The origin of our belief in a separate world derives from our thinking of ‘ourselves’ as other than the body that we apparently inhabit. We are our bodies, he said, and the mind cannot be separated from them. Continue reading

Depression – Q.330

Depression – Q. 330

 Q: For years now I’ve been severely depressed and it doesn’t seem to be changing. What led me to Advaita, I think, was the intense desire to know what I guess I can only meaningly refer to as God.

I read a lot about how we are not our bodies and how if we can be aware of something, then that ‘something’ cannot be us. I understand all this. There is a formless awareness that appears to be prior to everything, prior to my body, my mind and the suffering of depression, I can see that.

One book I’ve read, not specifically about depression, advises that we remain with that awareness, as that awareness that is prior to both body and mind. However, I find this difficult. The body and mind come out of the Self and thus must be the Self. Beyond this the reasoning and experience of it gets quite subtle, but I’ll give it my best shot. Yes, there is an awareness that is before the mind and body, something that you might call the Ultimate subject, but It is only apparent because of the body and mind – without the body and mind, the Self wouldn’t know itself. Continue reading